Many of the craft schools in Appalachia feature weaving in their beginnings. Mary Crovatt Hambidge (1885-1973) started Hambidge Center as a weaving business in her home. In the mid-1930’s she created the Weavers of Rabun near Rabun Gap, GA, where I am sitting today. By 1937 she was selling the items produced here in her shop in New York City. The center here produced largely yardage for use in garments or furnishings. She purchased the current property in 1938. She recruited local women as weavers and spinners. Later in her life, she put her energies into making Hambidge into a creative center and continued this work until her death in 1973.*
Hambidge house was Mary's private dwelling. Though it used to be a studio for resident writers, it is now used by the center's director.
One of the other residents during my stay, Phyllis Langton, has been coming to Hambidge for many years. She is a writer and she talks about staying at Hambidge House in her early years of residency, using Mary's own dishes and furniture, and setting a symbolic place at the table each night for Mary.
Of course I am interested in the beginnings of this place as a weaving center and eventual school. But little of that remains today beyond the original weaving building, now almost completely devoid of looms save for one belonging to the administrative assistant.
Today Hambidge is a place nestled up a little valley along Betty's creek. The property spans the road with hiking trails along the creek and up the neighboring mountain. The center has a working grist mill which the locals use periodically as well as a healthy flock of chickens and a few assorted sheep. They do educational programs and invite the community and they have a large art auction every year in Atlanta which supports the center as well as the artists who participate.
Fairly soon after arriving, I felt the insistent pull of technology fall away and was able to return to a slower, more creative pace. There isn't any cell service here and the internet is just about as slow as it could be. So instead, the residents gather on the screen porch talk about art. They share a nightly meal prepared by the amazing chef Lori and listen to the peepers start to call as dark falls over the sloping lawn. Some scurry away just before dark to walk back to their studios before daylight completely disappears. But I embrace the dark. The woods here are safe and the night noises bring much fascination.
It has been magical and it is an experience that needs to be remembered and replicated in some small way every day. After all, this is the life-blood of an artist--creative time. How to do that in my own studio is still a big question, but each time I practice this kind of detachment from the details of life and focus on creating something, I get a little closer to figuring it out.
I, for one, want to thank you Mary. Though I hear you were a rather eccentric woman, your legacy lives on in inestimable ways in all the residents who are invited to your property every year. That it all started with a weaver is quite fitting.
*Alvic, P. (2003). Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.