Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography

LUCY NICHOLSON Biography Weaver & Head of PMSS Fireside Industries 1923-1924

TAGS: Lucy Nicholson; blue-pot; dyeing; weaving; Fireside Industries; Evelyn K. Wells; weavers; Berea College; F.A. Matheney;

There was something intriguing about a certain blue color in old coverlets of the mountains: It never faded. And there was also a concern of weavers and craftspeople at Pine Mountain Settlement School that the recipe for this non-fading blue had been lost to history. For years they tried to reproduce it using the blue-pot recipe, an age-old method of dyeing with indigo using a fermentation vat. According to Evelyn Wells’ historical report the first “really good blue” was finally achieved in 1924 by Miss Lucy Nicholson, a worker at the School and Mrs. El Nolan, a member of the PMSS community.

Miss Nicholson had a keen interest in achieving a “really good blue,” as she specialized in weaving and dyeing. Also, for one year, 1923-1924, she was the head of Fireside Industries, a department at PMSS that encouraged and sold locally-made crafts.

The position of Miss Nicholson as a weaver at Pine Mountain came to Miss Pettit’s attention through a recommendation from Mrs. F.E. Matheny who taught weaving at Berea College as part of the well-known program of the Fireside Weavers. Intrigued, Pettit wrote to Nicholson encouraging her to apply. The job of a weaving teacher at Pine Mountain was a difficult one as Katherine Pettit describes in her letter to Lucy Nicholson. The duties of a weaver often included other responsibilities such as that of a housemother. Pettit reminds Nicholson of the work ahead

I want you to understand that we are interested in very special problems at Pine Mountain. We want to revive and keep alive the old vegetable dyes, particularly the old indigo blue. We also want to make articles which are exactly like the old-fashioned mountain weavings, —the striped blankets and coverlets and towels and linsey, — not bag and table runners and small things which many schools manufacture, and which do not really belong to the mountains. …”

May 17, 1923. Katherine Pettit to Lucy Nicholson, Lexington, NC.

Perhaps a bit intimidated by the demands of Pettit, in May of 1923, Nicholson advised her that she intended to go to Berea and study again with F.A. Matheny and focus on the needs that Pettit had described in her letter. In August of that same year she advised Pettit that “After working with the dying for five weeks under the supervision of Mrs. Matheny, I am glad to tell you I can do the indigo blue, madder root red, copperns, also other vegetable dying …”

Training in weaving at Berea was optimal and the successful Fireside Industries program shared with Pine Mountain was a good fit with Pettit’s desire to stay with the “old ways”.

Evelyn K. Wells described the Fireside Industries in her record of Fireside Industries:

The ideal behind the development of this department has been to preserve all that was beautiful in the old mountain dyeing and weaving, letting only those things develop out of them that grew naturally, rather than to bring in outside ideas which did not belong to the mountains.

WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

Fireside Industries, which was adopted in 1913 at PMSS as part of the regional craft revival, changed locations on the campus several times while in existence, including the Girls’ Industrial Building and the School House during Miss Nicholson’s stay. In 1926 the Fireside Industries accounts were taken off the books of the School, to be kept independently by that department as the program began to consolidate its reach into Appalachia.

In the year that Lucy Nicholson was in charge of the Fireside Industries at Pine Mountain, sales totaled $388. Wells’ chronology of accomplishments for 1923-1924 reports the following:

The record for two months alone shows 6 yards coverlet material, 6 yards rug material, 3 blankets, counterpanes and tied lace made. The first successful blue-pot was set, weaving notebooks were started, the regular weaving class began, the student making themselves homespun dresses. Kenneth Nolan started work at his own loom.

WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

To follow the growth of the weaving program at Pine Mountain see the following

Weaving at Pine Mountain Settlement School GUIDE

The search in the PMSS Collections for material about Lucy Nicholson as a PMSS worker is on-going. In the event that new details concerning her time at Pine Mountain Settlement School are uncovered, they will be added to this biography.

See Also:  
LUCY NICHOLSON Correspondence, 1922-1924
USDA “Home Dyeing with Natural Dyes” 1935 
Katherine Pettit Dye Book
WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Weaving at Pine Mountain 1930s-1940s

Return to: BIOGRAPHY – A-Z

TitleLucy Nicholson
Alt. TitleMiss Nicholson ; Lucille Nicholson ;
CreatorPine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY
Alt. CreatorHelen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt
Subject Keywordblue-pot; dyeing; weaving; Fireside Industries; Evelyn K. Wells
Subject LCSHLucy Nicholson.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Handicrafts — Kentucky.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Date2018-01-21 aae
PublisherPine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY
Contributorn/a; or specify
TypeCollections ; text ; image ;
FormatOriginal and copies of documents and correspondence in
file folders in filing cabinet.
SourceSeries 09: Biography
RelationIs related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School
Collections, Series 09: Biography.
Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ;
RightsAny display, publication or public use must credit
the Pine Mountain Settlement School.
Copyright retained by the creators of certain items
in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated
by United States copyright law.
DescriptionCore documents, correspondence, writings and
administrative papers created by or addressed to
[full name]; clippings, photographs, publications,
illustrations by or about [full name].
Citation“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series
Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement
School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain
Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.
Processed ByHelen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;
Last Updated2018-01-21 aae ; 2019-06-04 aee ; 2019-10-18 hhw;
Source“Lucy Nicholson.” USDA “Home Dyeing with Natural
Dyes” 1935 ; WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside
Industries 1913-1928. Pine Mountain Settlement School
Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School,
Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.