In the southern Appalachian Mountains of the eastern U.S., a unique folk culture developed through centuries of hewing an existence from the ancient mountains. This hardscrabble way of life was marked by music (bluegrass has its roots here), faith, extreme poverty, storytelling, and a resilient connection to the land.
I gained an early appreciation for Appalachian folk art when, as a child, I discovered my grandparents’ Foxfire books in their basement. Family trips to the Smoky Mountains, a fascination with old log cabins, and (more recently) learning to play the mountain dulcimer fed that appreciation. The folks who lived here (known as “mountaineers”) exemplified “making do,” surviving for centuries in mountain coves and inaccessible valleys while fashioning all they needed to survive from the materials that could be harvested there.
My family recently had the opportunity to take a road trip to the Foxfire Museum in Mountain City, Georgia. The land for the museum was purchased in 1974 with book royalties, and old settlers’ structures from the mountains nearby were purchased and relocated to the site. The Museum is a fascinating and beautiful place, every bit as inspiring as I’d hoped it would be – it definitely serves to whet the handcraft appetite. And there’s no better place to practice your stilt-walking skills.
We spent a good part of the day wandering the museum grounds, which meander up a green mountainside. Many of the old homesteads in the area were situated on steep slopes or required an approach over precipitous trails. Quite a few of the secondary roads here follow some of those original settlers' paths, tracing hair-raising routes up and over the mountains. It'd be terrifying attempting those in the snow and ice (I thought several times over). But the experience of stepping back in time at the Foxfire Museum has given us all a deeper respect for the adaptability and ingenuity of the folks who made these mountains their home.