The Mountain Press today published an article regarding the Arrowcraft shop’s worries for its future should the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity sell the land.
By COBEY HITCHCOCK
At least, that’s where the historic handmade craft store is located for the time being, although no one seems to know how talks are progressing over a possible sale of the property owned by the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women.
Arrowcraft is a separate entity from Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, although there is a common misperception that the two are actually part of the same interest. Arrowcraft is one of five guild-controlled craft shops located within other Appalachian communities in neighboring states.
It’s because of that misconception that Arrowcraft has been overlooked by many concerned by the ongoing discussion of the possible sale of the land.
“We lease from the Pi Phis, just like Arrowmont does,” Arrowcraft manager Craig Sponburgh said. “And we have a long-term lease with them (until 2039). They (the Pi Phis) haven’t actually had any communication with the guild or us here at Arrowcraft, to see what they actually have planned for us.”
Although many people claim to know what is going on, there has been no official word on the future of the land housing Arrowcraft and Arrowmont.
“It’s all been very vague,” said Arrowcraft assistant manager Laurel Kiewitt. “One camp says negotiations are still moving forward, and another camp says that one of the developers has backed out. It’s all been a lot of rumors and speculation, because the developers have not laid out all their plans, and they have not contacted (Arrowcraft) or the guild.”
Arrowcraft opened in 1926 in a room of Stuart College on the grounds of the original Pi Beta Phi Settlement School that was established in 1912. The first Arrowcraft store was located close to where Arrowmont’s studios and housing are located.
In 1929, the Appalachian weaving industry took off, and it soon became evident that a full-sized store was needed. It was built at the shop’s current location and has expanded since then.
“So it’s always been a craft shop that has carried handmade mountain crafts since its beginning in 1926,” said Kiewitt.
In 1932, the Gatlinburg Weavers Guild was born, and the onsite weaving industry continued in downtown Gatlinburg well into the 1980s.
“I remember when I went to the (Pi Phi) elementary school,” said Kiewitt. “We would take tours and see the weavers working.”
Although the Southern Highland Craft Guild didn’t assume Arrowcraft management until 1994, the guild has had roots in Gatlinburg since the first craft fair of the Southern Highlands event took place July 26, 1948, underneath tents on the grounds of the settlement school. The bi-annual event stayed here until 1975, when it moved to Knoxville and later to its current location at the Civic Center in Asheville, N.C.
Arrowcraft continues to supply the public with rare handmade crafts of all types, including weaving products ranging from quilts to table mats, artistic prints, glasswork of all sorts, handcrafted furniture, kitchenware, bird houses, animal carvings and handmade jewelry.
In fact, Arrowcraft is much more than just a store for the public. Arrowcraft is the livelihood for many traditional handcrafting artists, representing nearly 300 members from select counties in a nine-state area, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama.
“But it’s not the whole states,” said Kiewitt. “It’s just basically the mountain counties of those states.”
Holding a lease with a little more than three decades remaining on it, Arrowcraft hopes that it won’t be moving anywhere for a long time.
“With our long-term lease, the guild has taken the position to wait and see if this (deal) is going to go forward or not,” said Sponburgh. “I don’t think (the guild) has panicked, because of the long-term lease. If we had to move, it would be very tough. We couldn’t just go out someplace to be. A lot of people that come here, when they come to Gatlinburg, this is the only store they’ll come to.”