Tucked away on a wooded hillside in the heart of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Arrowmont’s mission of enriching lives through art is the foundation from which their internationally-recognized educational craft programs, national juried exhibitions, art conferences and symposia grow and flourish.
The oldest craft school in Tennessee, Arrowmont offers workshops in painting, woodworking, glassblowing, photography, basket weaving, ceramics, fiber arts, and metalworking, and sponsors an 11-month artist-in-residence program. In 2012, the historic campus of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts marked its 100th year.
In the early 20th century, reports of widespread poverty and lack of education in Southern Appalachia gained the attention of religious and philanthropic organizations. Inspired by the settlement house movement begun in the previous century, these organizations began to establish “settlement schools” in remote mountain communities to provide free education.
The American Arts and Crafts Revival, which also began in the 19th century, had helped create a market for traditional handicrafts which urban settlement house workers seized upon as a means of income for recent immigrants. In the early 20th century, the settlement school movement opened the same markets to the residents of Southern Appalachia.
Arrowmont’s history is rooted in a settlement school founded by the Pi Beta Phi women’s fraternity in Gatlinburg in 1912. The school provided the only public education for children in the remote Gatlinburg area until the early 1940s and was also the site of the region’s first medical clinic.
The establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park radically changed Gatlinburg’s economy and culture and the Pi Beta Phi helped prime the city for the coming tourism boom by helping residents tap into the national market for the crafts of Southern Appalachia.
In 1925, weaving instructor Winogene Redding joined the Pi Beta Phi settlement school’s staff to teach traditional weaving. By 1926, 30 families were weaving for the school and had successfully adapted to Redding’s strict factory-like regimen of quality and deadlines.
In 1929 the Southern Highland Craft Guild was established. The Guild presently operates the Arrowcraft Store, built in 1940, which helped keep much of the profits from the tourism industry in local hands.
After Sevier County took over the settlement school in 1943, Pi Beta Phi and the University of Tennessee turned their focus to the crafts and established workshops which provided craft classes to students and teachers. The programs were tremendously successful and in 1969 the name “Arrowmont” was chosen and Summer Crafts Workshop director Marian Heard was selected as head of the new school. Today, Arrowmont serves as a cultural center in the community, offering adult and children’s classes, an active juried, themed and invitational exhibition schedule, and annual art conferences and symposia. ArtReach and other children’s programs impact 1,500 local school children throughout the year.
On November 29, 2016, the school’s campus was damaged when a wildfire from the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread throughout Gatlinburg. All but two of the buildings survived.