Fiber Arts at warren wilson college
The history of weaving at Warren Wilson College stretches back over 100 years. The tradition began with the opening of the Dorland Bell institute and the Asheville farm school in 1894. By 1928 the Appalachian craft revival was in full swing as Helen Hickman joined the staff at Dorland Bell to initiate a craft program. Much like the weavings sold on campus today, the products of Dorland Bell were sold to the public as a means of funding the school. A landmark decision in 1942 brought about a merger between the Dorland Bell institute and the Asheville farm school. This merger created Warren H Wilson vocational junior college right here in Swannanoa. Weaving students and looms came with Hickman and the newly founded Vocational College began to offer weaving as both a vocational major, and a work crew. It was even stated that profits from weaving kept the school open during hard times.
In 1957 the vocational College became a four year institute, and the school we know as Warren Wilson college was born. Weaving classes closed but the work crew remained. 1960 saw a new crew leader in Alice Pratt, and the work crew continued to sell goods to the public. In 1969 the craft shop was shuttered and the weaving crew laid dormant for 40 years. By the 1970’s the majority of the looms had been donated and weaving was only offered as an independent study in applied arts at Williams Museum. In 2009 Melanie Wilder was approached by a student to revive the work crew. With a new name and contemporary equipment built by the woodworking crew, Melanie entered the Warren Wilson weaving legacy.
With the support of Melanie, students learn about the rich history of weaving in the Appalachian region. Often, the patterns used today are contemporary versions of the original appalachian overshot weaving drafts collected by Frances Goodrich in the 1890’s. The campus store began selling weaving products in 2017, and once again the proceeds go to support the school. Now, in 2018, Warren Wilson is offering a craft minor in conjunction with the craft crews and once again classes will be offered in fiber arts.