Western Carolina University presented its 2010 Mountain Heritage Awards on Saturday (Sept. 25) to the late Annie Lee Bryson, a Cullowhee craftswoman who was known as the “Corn Shuck Doll Lady,” and to Asheville’s summertime musical tradition Shindig on the Green.
The awards presentations were part of activities at the university’s 36th annual Mountain Heritage Day festival. The awards were presented by Scott Philyaw, director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, and Clifton Metcalf, WCU vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs.
Annie Lee Bryson
Born in 1921, Jackson County native and Cane Creek community resident Annie Lee Potts Bryson was well known in the region for her work in carrying on the traditional craft of making corn-husk dolls, Philyaw said.
When World War II loomed on the horizon, Bryson became involved with the National Youth Administration program, joining other young women in making mattress covers for soldiers. Frances Nicholson, another Jackson County native, was the supervisor, and during their lunch hour she taught Bryson how to make many items from corn husks, or as they are also commonly called, corn shucks.
“I learned how to make sandals, mats and hats from Frances,” Bryson once said. “But most importantly, Frances taught me how to make the oldest doll known in America, the corn- husk doll. I really loved to bring the dolls to life.”
Bryson married in 1950, and she and her husband had three daughters. Over the years, she continued making corn-husk dolls and other handicraft items. In 1972, Bryson became involved with Balsam Originals, a nonprofit cooperative sponsored by Mountain Projects, a federal agency serving low-income residents in Western North Carolina. Local families were able to earn extra income selling handmade crafts through the co-op. As a volunteer for Balsam Originals, Bryson brought members of the Wayehutta and Cane Creek communities into the craft co-op by organizing craft classes and by making telephone calls and home visits to solicit backing. She became an organizer, instructor, board member and producer for the co-op.
Bryson’s leadership and community involvement did not go unrecognized, as she received the “Woman of the Year” award from the Western North Carolina Development Association in 1973, Philyaw said.
In 1976, Bryson was one of nine original crafters who founded the highly successful Dogwood Crafters Co-op in Dillsboro. She also demonstrated at numerous craft festivals and was a regular participant at Mountain Heritage Day from the festival’s beginnings. For several years, she demonstrated her craft at the Mountain Life Festival, held at the Mountain Farm Museum in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Many of her corn-shuck items won prizes at local, regional and state competitions. In 2008, Bryson was recipient of the Britta Holland Memorial Award, which was presented by the Appalachian Farmstead and Catch the Spirit of Appalachia in recognition of her work in continuing mountain crafts and culture.
Bryson was known as a patient and creative teacher, Philyaw said. She taught classes through Mountain Projects, Southwestern Community College, WCU’s continuing education programs, and numerous school and community groups. She also worked extensively as a volunteer for schools, 4-H groups, home extension groups and museum youth programs.
Bryson’s three daughters – Norma Clayton and Anna Allen, both of Sylva, and Carolyn Wiggins of Cullowhee – accepted the Mountain Heritage Award on their mother’s behalf.
Shindig on the Green
For more than 40 years, Shindig on the Green has been one of the finest cultural traditions in the city of Asheville and across WNC, Philyaw said. An outdoor concert held “along about sundown” on summer Saturdays in the city’s downtown, the shindig presents traditional Appalachian music and dance to thousands of local residents and visitors from around the world, stimulating awareness and appreciation for the cultural heritage of the region, he said.
Shindig on the Green began in 1967, but it traces its origins back further, to the advent of its parent festival, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. The festival was started in 1928 by noted musician and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford to spread the beauty and quality of Southern Appalachian music and dance traditions. It was out of that tradition that Shindig on the Green was founded by Jackie and Earl Ward, Bob Lindsay and Jerry Israel, with the help of other Folk Heritage Committee members, as a place for musicians in the area to gather and play.
The Folk Heritage Committee is a group of 18 dedicated individuals who work throughout the year to produce the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival and Shindig on the Green, Philyaw said. The committee operates under the umbrella of the Community Betterment Foundation (a part of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce). The committee is independently responsible for raising all the funding needed to produce both events.
Shindig on the Green always has featured the best of the region’s traditional bluegrass music, and that focus is personified in the event’s longtime house band, the Stoney Creek Boys, Philyaw said. Along with that group, the shindig features all the other staples of Appalachian culture – old-time string bands, big-circle mountain dancers, clog dancers, smooth dancers, ballad singers and storytellers. The weekly events also are well known for attracting other talented local musicians who gather nearby to participate in their own jam sessions, and the best of those musicians are handpicked to perform onstage during the shindig.
The Shindig on the Green recently completed its 44th season, a series of eight Saturday night events held on the newly minted Bascom Lamar Lunsford Stage at the new Pack Square Park. The concerts had been relocated to nearby Martin Luther King Park for three years while the new facilities were constructed.
(Some of the information above was provided courtesy of the Folk Heritage Committee and Carol Rifkin.)
Folk Heritage Committee member Glenn Bannerman accepted the Mountain Heritage Award on behalf of the committee.
WCU’s Mountain Heritage Awards are presented each year in recognition of outstanding contributions to the preservation or interpretation of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia; or in recognition of outstanding contributions to research on, or interpretation of, Southern Appalachian issues.