Sep 19, 2017
Handmade in Appalachia; Craft store provides outlet for over 120 artists

There are no “Made in China” stickers here. Therica Breazeale, administrator for the Coalition for Appalachian Ministry Cabin Crafts, sees to it that every single item for sale at this gift shop in Wears Valley is made by someone living in Appalachia. That includes Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina and Ohio.

It has been that way since CAM Cabin Crafts opened in 1998, although the ministry actually began years earlier in 1964. The shop is supported by the different denominations of the Presbyterian Church and is a nonprofit with one goal in mind.

“The shop still has the same purpose since the beginning — to provide a free marketplace for these Appalachian crafters,” said Breazeale. “We have more than 120 crafters from seven of the Appalachian states.” There are 13 Appalachian states, but those further away tend not to participate for that very reason: distance.

Take a look around and you’ll see there isn’t mass-produced sameness here. Breazeale has only two apron makers and each apron they create is unique. There’s one man who carves wooden bowls, and another whose talent turns stained glass scraps into gorgeous crosses. Egg gourds become birds to hang on Christmas trees or doors.

Each crafter works differently but one thing brings them together. They each want to share their creations with others and, in the end, make ends meet.

Something to contribute

Most of the crafters, said Breazeale, are seniors on fixed income. They quilt, knit, paint, sculpt, carve and create in order to supplement their incomes. They make their products and travel to this Wears Valley location twice a year to equip CAM Cabin Crafts with what they hope pleases both tourists and locals alike.

Next weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22 and 23, this craft store/ministry will hold its annual fall festival and craft show, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m each day. Parking and admission are free. There will be music and more than 30 vendors on site. This will be the biggest one ever, Breazeale said.

Crafters have come and gone over the years; many of them have been selling at this store since it opened. Breazeale said word of mouth has been good advertising, and she tries to add new ones on a frequent basis.

Those who want to join have to abide by two rules, Breazeale said. The first is the crafters must live in Appalachia. The second is each must hand make or handcraft their items to sell.

That can include re-purposing items. For instance, near the cash register is a display of jewelry made from different stones, leather and denim, and bracelets made from recycled belt buckles. A box of bookmarks is nearby. They are made using paperclips.

“My crafters can get really creative,” Breazeale said. “I don’t know where they get some of their ideas.”

Traditional or whimsical

While some of the crafts are eclectic or whimsical, many are traditional. Quilts, baskets and hand-woven rugs are as popular as ever. Paintings and all things University of Tennessee are also among the assortment of items.

The items brought in are priced to sell, and reasonably so. When they sell, the crafter gets most of the money, Breazeale said.”Most of the price tag is theirs. It helps them.”

After more than 12 years working at this nonprofit, they are indeed Breazeale’s crafters. She knows them individually, and also their families. When one suffers a setback, a prayer chain is set in motion. They call her just to check in and she does the same.

The crafters who have no other outlet for selling their wares are who this ministry seeks to serve, Breazeale said. That tends to be seniors who don’t advertise their things on the internet or enter craft shows.

And while it would seem like Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg might also want to work with these Appalachian crafters, that typically isn’t the case. The stores want things in bulk and they want them fast, not something these crafters do.

They are one-of-a-kind

“When my crafters make something it is a one-shot deal,” Breazeale said. “There is not another one that is identical. Those shops cater to a lot more people and want things faster and cheaper. That limits the marketplace for our crafters.”

Birdhouses, wind chimes, Nativity sets, purses, tote bags, carved animals, painted rocks, handmade soap, chokers, headbands, snowman salt shakers, handmade cards, earrings and the list goes on.

It was Breazeale’s original intentions to only work part time, as the job was advertised as being. But due to retirements, etc., she has taken on more and more responsibility over the years. “Now, I am everything from the floor sweeper to the bookkeeper,” she said.

But she isn’t complaining. Look at the friends she has made.

She is a member of this tight group, but she admits she didn’t get the crafty gene. She is just grateful to work with such a talented group and help make their lives better.

“I have zero craft talent,” she said. “I don’t even do crafts at Bible school.”

Original article can be found here.

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