The Art and Craft of Living

One of the hottest growing trends in interior design is incorporating fine craft into home décor, especially using pieces that are locally sourced from potters, weavers, furniture makers, quilters, knitters, stained glass makers, wood turners, basket makers, and many others who excel in traditional handcrafts.

What is fine craft?

Fine craft is the antithesis of manufactured production. As the quality of mass- produced items decreases, people look for high quality, unique, and one of a kind items to decorate their homes, and make personal statements. No two items made by a craftsperson are exactly the same because each one is literally made by hand, one at a time. These are not crafty DIY projects, but goods made by true artists.

“A hand-made end table created by a local craftsman will cost you the same as a mass-produced one found in a fancy furniture store,” said Deborah Belcher, Department Chair of Human Sciences at Middle Tennessee State University, “but it will not only be better made, but it will most likely have a story tied to it. The mass-produced end table will look like the end table hundreds of other people own, your fine craft piece will stand out.”

Why the interest in fine craft?

Farm-to-table dining has caused people to ask more questions about not only where their food comes from, but where other things in the home are sourced. With the renewed interest in local sourcing has come a rebirth of interest in fine craft. A similar resurgence took place during the Industrial Revolution, which brought the American Arts and Crafts Movement into existence in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Collectors of items like pottery, hand woven fabrics, or furniture are drawn in by not only the item’s design, but also by the love that the artist has put into their work. Potters develop their own personal style as they experiment with kiln firing temperatures, and glazes. Fiber artist Catie Beth Thomas dyes natural fabrics with local plants, like privet berry, and employs native Tennessee leafs to print on fabric using a process called eco printing. Local furniture makers can create a piece, like a dining table, commissioned to fit a specific space or employ special materials.

Where Can Fine Craft Be Found?

Rutherford County has a long-standing tradition of fine craftspeople. Most of the potters in Tennessee have been taught at one time or another by retired MTSU instructor and local potter Lewis Snyder. Snyder was even asked by President Carter to create a set of hand-thrown dinnerware for the White House, and he was commissioned to make pieces for every other president through Bill Clinton.

Snyder and his son, Eric, who long lead the Murfreesboro Art Committee, are two of a number of members of the Studio Tour Artists Guild that sponsors the annual event in November. The Studio Tour allows the community to explore the mysteries of the artist’s studio and how they create their pieces.

A number of fine craft artists are also part of the Boro Art Crawl. VNTG on Walnut Street makes furniture out of reclaimed wood, including an elegant dining table for County Mayor Ernest Burgess from a tree that fell in his yard. T.J. Jones, the owner of VNTG, also shows the work of Fiona Dowd, a stained glass artist; Moody Davis, a wood turner; and Paul McIntyre, a blacksmith at his business/workspace.

Other craft artists like Catie Beth Thomas (CB Thomas Designs fiber art), Mike and Louise Kelley (Pottery’s Wheel Ceramics), and Susan Rodehaver (Turtleware Pottery) can be found at annual craft fairs, like Tennessee Craft, that takes place in Nashville twice a year in the spring and fall. Others, like Jonathan Griffith, an art teacher at Oakland High School, also show at events in Rutherford County, like Uncle Dave Macon Days and the Greenway Arts Festival.

Carol Bering, best known as a local painter, has recently begun making quilts that she promotes on her Facebook page. There are a number of online sites that sell fine craft, like Etsy and Freehand Gallery.

“As a toddler,” says Berning on her website, “I sat under quilts in large frames as my mother, grandmother, and her friends created delicate, feathery patterns with their stitches. Gazing up at the ‘stained glass’ fabric, I watched them push heir tiny quilting needles through the layers of muslin, cottony batting, and colorful squares. That is my earliest memory of art.”

How Can Fine Craft Be Incorporated Into Home Design?

Bringing fine craft into your home can mean adding a few pieces to accessorize a room, or it can be the guiding element of a home’s interior design. Anyone who has one of their grandma’s handmade quilts sitting on their bed or a Norris Hall clock hanging in their kitchen has begun to incorporate fine craft into their home.

When Marida Balch and her husband, Thomas, moved into their home in downtown Murfreesboro a few years ago, they used art and pottery created by themselves, family and friends to decorate. Balch’s husband made a number of stained glass windows for their home, one is made out of green glass plates he found in an antique store that reminded him of some his grandmother owns.

“Thomas and I try to include many items in our home that are original pieces,” said Balch. “We also place value on being able to include pieces that have family history, like our dining room table. We were able to salvage posts from the front porch of Thomas’ great-grandparent’s home. Eagle Reclaimed Lumber then repurposed them into legs for our dining room table.”

With the increased interest in creating a home that reflects the owners, and not the styling of a chain-store catalogue, interior designers and homeowners are looking for more natural items and statement pieces that no one else has. Fine craft provides the opportunity to not only add pieces to the home made with natural materials, but it also offers the opportunity to work with an artist to have a statement piece made to order.

“I have a number of wood bowls that I have purchased at Oaklands Mansion,” said Belcher, “they are not only functional, but they are true pieces of art that add interest wherever I place them in my home. I marvel at the beauty of the way the wood-turner brought out the grain and used the natural elements of the wood to create a beautiful design. There is nothing like fine craft and, I add pieces to my collection whenever I can.”