Abingdon Cave House gives Artisans Chance to Showcase, Sell Crafts
By Debra McCown | Bristol Herald Courier | December 28, 2007*** This story appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on Sunday, Dec 23, 2007. ***
ABINGDON, Va. ? The artisan center planned for Exit 14 will be the area's
biggest, but it won't be the first.
The Cave House has been helping local artisans market their works since
1971, said Donna Price, who manages the craft shop in a Victorian house on
Abingdon's Main Street.
"You don't have to wait for the artisan center," Price said. "We're already
Headquarters for the Holston Mountain Arts and Crafts Cooperative, the Cave
House Craft Shop was opened to help local artisans get a fair price for the
items they produce.
"It was started out of necessity, making quilts and making your own dolls,"
Price explained ? and at that time quilts sold for as little as $25.
"You couldn't go to Wal-Mart and buy a doll or buy a quilt, and people in
this area didn't realize that people from outside the area would pay them
good money for what they'd been doing, what they'd learned to do as
Now, the shop sells the work of 123 artisans, many of whom do their crafts
full time. Price said she's not sure what effect the artisan center will
have on the Cave House, but she's hopeful it will be positive.
"We're hoping that we can work hand in hand and when folks want to see more
of what's at the artisan center, they can come and see us," she said.
These are a few of the area artisans who are already selling their work at
the Cave House.
AN HISTORIC CHAIR
Ashley Stephenson is a former construction foreman with a master's degree
in Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies ? and he makes chairs.
His workshop at his Abingdon home is still full of power tools used in
carpentry, but he uses traditional hand tools to carve furniture from
"I was impressed when they said that they had draft horses that hauled them
out of the woods," he said of the logs he uses.
He said it takes about two weeks to make a chair from start to finish ?
first shaping and baking each piece, then shaping the joints and finally
fitting together the pieces and covering it with three coats of a
"You can see drawknife marks in it ... it beckons people to touch it," he
said of the finished product. "The seat is just, it flows, it's got a very
nice shape that really a machine couldn't get."
Hand-drilling a hole at the correct angle is a challenge, but Stephenson
said a chair's legs are the most difficult part; because the parts are
baked, they absorb moisture, creating a permanent joint without glue.
"Once you hammer them together they're not coming apart," he said, "so if
you make a mistake it's irreparable."
James Lang says he used the Internet to first learn about a craft that was
done in ancient Egypt and later guarded from the world on a secret Italian
island. It's glass-blowing.
"I've always liked to play with fire when I was a little kid," Lang said.
"I saw online how they were offering a class in lampworking [a type of
glass-blowing] in Santa Cruz, Calif., and I flew out and took the class."
Now, after a few more classes and seven years of practice, he sells his
products wholesale to shops around the country and makes a living shaping
glass with his lungs in a studio at his Johnson City, Tenn., home.
"Basically, I have a big torch on a table ... basically what it consists of
is me using the torch to manipulate rods and tubes of solid or silicate
glass," Lang explained.
"I do a lot of Christmas ornaments, a lot of earrings and jewelry,
pendants. I do some wine glasses and champagne flutes. I do kind of wild
bottles and different vessels, marbles, tons of things really ... just
about anything glass you can really think of."
Phil Holmes makes pottery with a process he says was popularized by
Buddhist monks in Medieval Japan.
What distinguishes raku from other pottery is the firing process. Instead
of being allowed to cool slowly in the kiln, the pots are removed red-hot
and placed in with combustible materials that react to change the color of
the pottery as it cools.
"You can take the same glaze and get a whole range of colors by what you do
to it after you take it out of the kiln," Holmes said.
A retired college professor, Holmes has been doing raku pottery for more
than 40 years and first used it as a teaching tool.
"When I first started teaching, I would always build a raku kiln because
there's a certain immediacy to it," he said. "There was a sense of giving a
student the total process in a very short period of time ... so when I
started teaching is when I really started doing raku on a regular basis."
He says the process results in cracks in the glaze that makes the surface
"The flaws, or cracks, are really kind of a record of the process," Holmes
said. "More and more, the mark of the process or some record of how it was
made is left to show because it gives the piece in particular a very
TRADITION WITH A TWIST
Lin Dutton uses wood-burning tools to carve designs into gourds, which she
says she started carving and painting because they're cheap and available.
"My mom always had them around when I was a kid, and in this part of the
country, a lot of people grow them for birdhouses and stuff," Dutton said.
"They're plentiful and they're cheap, and it's kind of nature's canvas. You
just pick out one that looks good and go to town on it."
She says imagination is what turns a simple gourd into a work of art.
"I do pretty good, but it's not really about the money; it's the fact that
I really enjoy doing it, and if I didn't sell them, there'd just be too
many cluttering the place up," Dutton said. "What I find fascinating with
it is that you can do so many different things with it, and it's such a
humble little thing to begin with, just a little gourd."
Marty Dunn began weaving baskets in 1992, when she returned to the area
after 40 years away.
"It's just something from the past that died down for a little while, and
now it's coming along real good just like some of the other crafts," Dunn
said of basket making. "People like to keep a traditional type thing going."
She said she uses patterns to make her baskets, just as in knitting or
"It's important because people are getting so far away from that time
frame, everybody's so busy and so rushed nowadays," Dunn said of
traditional crafts. "It's nice to sit down sometimes and do a craft or
something and bring back what our forefathers did."