The Founding of Arrowcraft: Page 2

As it happened, less than two years after Arrowcraft came into being, the Stock Market crash of 1929 plunged the United States -- and much of the world -- into the mire of the Great Depression. Pi Beta Phi lost thousands of dollars as banks failed nationwide, forcing the Settlement School Committee to consider the possibility of suspending operations (including Arrowcraft) until such time as economic conditions improved. Fortunately for Gatlinburg residents, who had come to depend on Pi Beta Phi for education and health care, the committee found ways to reduce expenses while still keeping the school and medical program afloat. Arrowcraft persevered as well, primarily because Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Clubs continued, insofar as they were able, to purchase handcrafted items, but also because Arrowcraft director Ethel Weaver Snow refused to accept a salary for two years, thereby enabling the settlement school to continue paying the program’s craftspeople for their wares.

Still, it would be incorrect to assume that the Depression Era brought only hardship and heartache to the settlement school -- or by extension to the Arrowcraft Program. Quite the contrary was true. In 1929, the year of the great crash, representatives of eight Southern Appalachian Craft Schools -- the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School included -- met in Asheville, North Carolina to found the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. Membership in this organization provided Arrowcraft artisans with increased market outlets, as well as a means to publicize their work via national and international exhibitions. Also, the 1935 advent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park proved a tremendous boon to Arrowcraft -- and to local businesses in general -- for it served to bring thousands of tourists to the settlement school’s front door. Not only did these tourists prop up Arrowcraft by purchasing handmade textiles, brooms, chairs, and other items; their very presence served to spark a spree of hotel and restaurant development that would ultimately transform the town.

As the Depression at last began to lift in the 1940s, Arrowcraft boomed. The program was, according to the Arrow of Pi Beta Phi, the “the largest distributing center for native handicrafts in this country,” shipping textiles and other items to 141 Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Clubs, 15 active Pi Beta Phi Chapters, and four retail outlets owned and operated by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. Of course, the program did suffer a number of setbacks. During the Second World War, scores of Gatlinburg residents (and hence, potential Arrowcraft employees) migrated away from the town either to serve in the military, or to take up defense industry jobs. For that matter, the town’s tourist trade acted as a sort of “double-edged sword” during the 1950s and 1960s, bringing consumers who wished to purchase Southern Appalachian handicrafts directly to Arrowcraft’s front door, but also redirecting potential laborers into the growing restaurant and hotel industries. In the end, however, Arrowcraft served as an important source of income for Gatlinburg families for the next two decades, easing their transition from a life of subsistence agriculture to a life of modern industrial/commercial labor. As late as 1972, The Arrow reported that “one . . . family, including the father, depended on weaving [for Arrowcraft] as its sole income.”

Today, Arrowcraft is owned by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, which uses the store to market handcrafted items on behalf of all guild members. The current store, which was built in 1940, is located on the Gatlinburg Parkway, between the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and Pi Beta Phi Elementary School.




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Izora Keener brings in some weaving, circa 1935

Weaver at loom, circa 1940

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Harmo Taylor and Lois Rogers, original Arrowcraft Shop, 1927

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