The Great Depression & WW II
Practical Arts 07 Hand crafts Practical Arts 06 Arrowcraft Practical Arts 01 Aunt Lizzie Practical Arts 04 Baskets Practical Arts 03 Delivering Practical Arts 05 Woman Weaving Practical Arts 02 Woman Knitting

Practical Arts

Many artistic items made during the
Great Depression were practical. They were made to be attractive, but they were also useful. This included such items as quilts, furniture, baskets, pottery, needlework, metal work, and carvings.
During the Great Depression (and at other times), many people depended upon selling their handicrafts to provide them with needed extra income. The crafts artists would sell works like baskets, brooms, or carvings at a local store, by the roadside, or at a craft shop.
Quilts, both attractive and useful, were made by women in both city and rural areas. Women could use their artistic flair to design and piece a quilt while using their sewing proficiency to stitch it. Quiltmaking had become popular in the 1920s as people became more interested in traditional crafts.
Books were published about quiltmaking. Quilting patterns could be found in women’s magazines and even the newspaper. 

Most of the major newspapers in Tennessee in the 1930s carried quilt columns offering advice in addition to patterns. There were local and national competitions for the best quilts.
Anne Orr of Nashville became a nationally known quilt designer in the 1930s. She began with designing cross-stitch patterns for needlework. She wrote a column for Good Housekeeping magazine for 20 years. 

Orr also had a mail order business for her cross-stitch and quilt designs. Ironically Orr did not cross-stitch or quilt herself; she said she was the designer.
During the Depression, women had to “make do” with whatever material they had.  String quilts which could be made from small pieces of fabric became popular. Empty sacks which had contained grain, flour, or sugar would be reused in quilts and even clothing.
Other crafts
Basketmaking had always been one of the state’s traditional crafts. Baskets were important home equipment used to gather, measure, store, and carry items. Local stores would buy well-made baskets to sell to their customers.
Making wooden chairs and other basic furniture was also a traditional craft. Chairmaking usually wasn’t a full-time job. Many farmers did it in the winter, while their fields were bare, as a way of bringing in more money.
Knoxville held an annual “fiddlers’ contest” every year during the 1930s where local performers showed off their talent. Music was a traditional form of entertainment in homes. There was a demand for hand-made dulcimers, fiddles, guitars, and other musical instruments.
Craft schools & groups
Pleasant Hill Academy, in Cumberland County, began a crafts department in 1930. The school wanted to “develop skill…which will be a joy and service to them (its students).” The woodworking department was divided into three sections: shop workers, whittlers, and carvers.
The Pi Beta Phi Settlement School in Gatlinburg had been established in 1912 to bring education and healthcare to local people. They soon realized that the local residents needed a way to make money. In 1914, the school began to purchase baskets, coverlets, and other crafts to resell. The school opened a store, Arrowcraft Shop, to sell craft items. They also began weaving and other classes for adults.
During the Great Depression, some school staff members occasionally went without pay so that the school could continue paying the craftspeople for their wares. The school, along with other Appalachian craft schools, including the Cedar Creek Community Center in Greenville, Tennessee, formed the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild in 1930 to promote the marketing of their craft items.
The guild organized its first exhibition of “Southern Highland Handicrafts” in 1933. This exhibition traveled to Washington D.C., New York City, and other cities around the country. The catalog for the exhibition shows such items as woven wool scarves, woven towels, pillow tops, runners, afghans, baskets, fans, and brooms from Pi Beta Phi Settlement School; furniture from the Wood Craft Shop in Gatlinburg; wood carvings from Pleasant Hill Community Crafts; and rugs from the Shuttle-Crafters in Russellville, Tennessee

Picture Credits:
  • Photograph of Aunt Lizzie Reagan of Gatlinburg weaving a jean cloth in 1933 at the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School.  The caption said that very few can weave this type of cloth now.  Aunt Lizzie was identified as being 75 years old and earning a living by weaving.  Photograph was taken by Lewis Hine, who was hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority to document life in the Tennessee valley.  National Archives
  • Photograph of an elderly woman knitting while sitting in the doorway of her home in 1933.  She is identified as Mrs. Sarah Wilson, 91 years old, of Bulls Gap, Tennessee. Photograph was taken by Lewis Hine, who was hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority to document life in the Tennessee valley. Tennessee State Museum Collection, H-9
  • Photograph of a woman named Izora bringing in her weaving to sell in the Arrowcraft Shop at the Pi Beta Phi Settlement school in Gatlinburg.  Pi Beta Phi Collection, Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project, The University of Tennessee Libraries. 
  • Photograph of a man and woman delivering baskets to sell in the Arrowcraft Shop in 1930.  The caption identifies the people as Aunt Sallie and Samuel Compton.  Pi Beta Phi Collection, Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project, The University of Tennessee Libraries. 
  • Photograph of a woman weaving at the Cumberland Homesteads, Crossville, Tennessee, in 1937.  Photograph by Ben Shahn, Farm Security Administration.  Library of Congress
  • Photograph of two women sitting in the entrance to the Arrowcraft Shop at Gatlinburg.  The shop was part of the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School.  The women are identified as Harma Taylor and Lois Rogers. Pi Beta Phi Collection, Great Smoky Mountains Regional Project, The University of Tennessee Libraries.  
  • Two women in Apison Tennessee work on hand crafts.  The woman in front has a hooked rug on her lap while she is stitching while the other woman is working on a quilt frame.  Woven coverlets are hung on the wall behind them.  The photograph was taken in March 1941 and is part of the Tennessee Department of Conservation Photograph Collection at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

   The Great Depression & WW II >>  The Great Depression >>  The Arts >>  Practical Arts

Sponsored by: National Endowment for the Humanities
Website developed and maintained by: The Tennessee State Museum.
Contact us:
Web Design and Hosting by: Icglink

: :