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John Polly teaching Traditional Appalachian Woodworking at Arrowmont

Arrowmont Legacy Weekend for Appalachian Arts Administrators

With fall colors still prominent but just beginning to fade softly past their peak, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts opened its doors November 9-12, 2023 for its final workshop session of the year. For the second year, Arrowmont designated this weekend as Legacy Weekend, an Appalachian Arts program for Appalachian administrators. Arrowmont welcomed arts administrators and K-12 support staff throughout central Appalachia, generously providing each of them an all-inclusive residential workshop experience.

In 2018, recognizing the importance of preserving Appalachian craft as part of its unique heritage, Arrowmont created an initiative to facilitate the intergenerational transfer of traditional Appalachian arts and crafts and cultural heritage knowledge. “The initiative is designed to preserve and continue traditional craft knowledge by educating teachers and grades 4-12 students in Central Appalachia about traditional craft making, and by offering master artists and cultural elders the opportunity to teach and learn in Arrowmont’s supportive environment.”

Legacy Weekend for Appalachian Arts Administrators spawned from this initiative, and Arrowmont offered classes in basket weaving, clay, Appalachian woodworking, woodturning, forging/welding, and natural dyeing. The participants included arts non-profit staff, arts center directors, school bus drivers, and teachers coalescing around a unique opportunity to learn, create, and indulge in the pleasure and discipline of craft, guided by professional artists. In their working lives, these individuals work tirelessly to provide opportunities for others — other artists, other children, other staff, and other adults. To have the rare gift of time and space to unwind and focus on one particular aspect of craft turned the table, reminded them of the meaningful service of their day-to-day jobs while also spawning the kind of flow that artists treasure — in which time is forgotten and we live fully in the moment.

In the woodworking studio, John Polly’s passion for woodworking shone through as he taught his class of seven novice woodworkers. Polly lives in Jacksboro, Tennessee and originally learned woodworking from his father. He retired from the federal prison system where he began as a carpenter and eventually became an engineer. In 2020, he was named Arrowmont’s  Appalachian Craft & Culture Fellow. Polly spent a month sourcing and preparing the material for his students, which included walnut, maple, cherry, sassafras, and box elder wood from fallen trees. Focusing on traditional techniques, he taught his students how to use hand scrapers and wood planes to smooth wood and guided them through the dozens of other steps needed to build tables with dovetail drawers.

John Polly and his woodworking students with their completed tables


The dining hall offered both physical and social nourishment to students and instructors. The initial nervous introductory chatter on the first day (Where are you from? Where do you work?) quickly gave way to the raucous laughter and conversation more typically heard among close friends. Culinary Director, Tim Lepre, knowing that many worked in public schools, teased the group that they were louder than their own kids as he doled out plate after plate of delicious chicken dijon, orange tofu, and hot breakfasts of bacon, sausage, and eggs. They savored every culinary indulgence-from specialty salads and fresh fruit, to hearty main courses, and dessert. With everyone living and working on the campus together, the Arrowmont experience is truly a special one that brings people together.

Darcy Holdorf, the Programs Director at the John C. Campbell Folk School, participated in Legacy Weekend for the first time. “I had such a delightful time making willow baskets with @talconquinn at @arrowmont_school Legacy Weekend! Great instruction, thoughtful and creative classmates and friends, beautiful studios and such nice material to work with. Grateful to Arrowmont for providing this refreshing weekend that reminds folks why we work so hard to facilitate these meaningful craft programs.”

Willow baskets. Photo courtesy of Darcy Holdorf.

Interested in Arrowmont’s Legacy Program? Please visit their website to learn more. If you have questions about applying for the 2024 program, please contact Rebecca Buglio by email at [email protected]

The Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+) serves craft artists across the United States and territories by providing education programs, advocacy, network building, and emergency relief.


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