That year, the kids met the woman who, in the minds of many, came to embody the whole Foxfire project. Arie Carpenter, better known as “Aunt Arie” to the students, was born in 1885 and lived alone in a mountain cabin after her husband passed away. She grew her own food, drew water from a hand-dug well, and in the words of one student, was “the wisest, kindest, most giving human being I had ever met.” Wigginton recorded, “Ask any of those students who met her – even if only once – about Aunt Arie, and chances are each will look down at the ground, pause a moment, and say something like, ‘I loved her.’” Aunt Arie would become a staple of the Foxfire program, welcoming hundreds of students over the years to her little cabin and often visiting them in their Rabun Gap classroom. The stories she shared about the old ways, about the joys of community and church life and the beauty of the hills, tugged at the hearts of everyone who listened. Her knowledge of handcraft, including weaving chair seats and constructing beautiful baskets out of split oak and willow, became legendary. Years later, her life would inspire a Broadway play and even a feature-length film (with Jessica Tandy playing the lead). But that day when the kids met her, she was quietly cleaning a hog’s head to make “souse meat” out of it. Several students good-naturedly pitched in to help, and they all chatted away through the day.
–Michael Updegraff, excerpt from “Mountain Music: The Story of Foxfire’s 50 Years of Appalachian Handcraft,” in Issue Eleven