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Selling Tradition Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940 ByJane S. Becker University ofNorth CaroUna Press, 1998 3 5 2 pp. Cloth, $5 5.00; paper $18.95 Reviewed by Maria R. Miller of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who has focused much ofher research on laboring women in rural New England before industrialization and on gender and commemorative style in Deerfield, Massachusetts (1870—1920). About two years ago, after nearly ten years in the roUing Piedmont ofNorth CaroUna , I moved to New England. As I prepared to go, I started coUecting things, Utde pieces ofthe South to bring with me to the North. One ofthese objects was a moss green coverlet from the looms of Churchül Weavers in Berea, Kentucky, plucked from a rack of spectacular woven textiles atJugtown in Seagrove, North Carolina. In part I chose this for its warm, earthy color, and in part for its irresistible velvety texture, but mosdy I wanted it because it was woven in Berea, and I knew that Berea had long been famous as a center of southern handcraft. My coverlet would be a fitting souvenir of southern culture in my northern Uving room. In Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction ofan American Folk, 1930—1940 Jane Becker places me and my coverlet into context. I now know that Churchül Weavers, founded in 1922, was a smaU famüy business whose use ofmechanized fly-shutde looms forced the Soudiern Highland Handicraft Guüd to confront the presence of smaU industry in southern craft production, an episode in a long debate that was ultimately about nothing short ofthe meaning and place ofcraft, folk, tradition, and commerce in American society and culture. Becker's accompUshed and eye-opening study plumbs the cultural pohtics that swirled around reformers and bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and industriaUsts, coUectors, curators, craftspeople, and consumers as they redefined and reconfigured southern craft production within a changing national culture and economy. Her central concern throughout is not only how tradition was harnessed for the marketplace, but how the marketplace affected the erstwhüe producers ofsocaUed traditional crafts. She posits that Appalachian culture in the second quarter of the twentieth century was "domesticated." Reformers appropriated and saniReviews 79 tized mountain culture, remaking "the foreign and fearsome" into the "knowable , benign and consumable." That last is most critical: in the end, formerly "wüd" mountaineers were tamed and transformed into producers of furnishings for the middle-class homes of modern, industrial America. Women played critical roles throughout this process, as reformers, promoters, marketers, and producers (and presumably consumers); indeed, in important ways this is a study of gender, class, culture, and commerce that transcends region. Educators and social workers (primarily coUege-educated middle-class women from the Northeast whose professional aspirations brought them to mountain schools, settlements, and organizations Uke the Southern Highland Handicraft Guüd) parlayed their culturaUy appointed role as tastemakers into even greater positions as interpreters of mountaineers and their handcrafts to the nation at large. Meanwhüe, art and antique dealers, Uke Isabele Carleton Wüde, together with coUectors, Uke Abby Aldrich RockefeUer, blurred distinctions between folk and fine art, elevating handcraft to high culture. The largest numbers ofwomen, however, fiUed die bottom of the market's pyramid; a 1933 study conducted by the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau found that more than fourteen thousand (nearly 95 percent) ofthe fifteen thousand crafters were women. Becker's compassionate consideration of diose "Mountain Craft Producers and Their Work" sits, both Uterally and figuratively, at the heart ofthe book. Here Ues the main strength of Becker's study, which beautifuUy marries the analytical muscle of cultural history with social history's attention to material detail. Becker's interest is not simply in the abstract constructions of the folk contrived by eUtes, but in who the folk were, what they were constructing, and the conditions under which they constructed it. Opening with sketches of three very different weavers—a home-based craftswoman from Pine Mountain, Kentucky, a factory operative at Bütmore Industries, and an independent businesswoman in Sylva, North CaroUna—Becker offers an on-the-ground view of craftwork from the varying perspectives ofworkers across...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 79-82
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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