Tag Archives: weaving

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

0046a P. Roettinger Album.”Sheep Shearing, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, and Mrs. Joe Day.” c.1920s  [Woman standing next to a barn on left, watching man and woman sheer a sheep.]

TAGS: sheep shearing, Cecil Sharp, sheep, sheep flocks, dreaming of sheep, sheep in history, sheep in song, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, Mrs. Joe Day, George Pullen Jackson


It is not likely that Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), the British musicologist, ever sheared a sheep. But, he was, in any case, a close observer of the ruminants and probably an even closer critic of their bleets and baahs! Nonetheless, what Cecil Sharp has left to the history of sheep is a unique auditory trail that helps to re-trace the prevalence of sheep within the rich agrarian history of Great Britain and in the American Appalachian mountains.

When musicologist Sharp sat on the porch of Old Far House at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky and watched the Kentucky Running Set as it was performed by students and staff, he was watching the well-trained legs that probably had chased a sheep or two up the Pine Mountain and down. Tending sheep is an active job and the energy of that Kentucky Running set is just a short measure of the energy that is needed to maintain a sheep flock in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.


in the early years of the Central Appalachians, in the small hillside farms, it was a celebration when lambs arrived and again when wool was sheared.  In the far-off “lands across the sea,” as Uncle William Creech, a founder of Pine Mountain Settlement used to say, many Europeans were continuing similar agrarian practices, particularly those people of the so-called “Borderlands,” that narrow bridge of land between Scotland and England. This region has long been associated with the early settlers of the Central Appalachians. The European Borderland customs and agrarian practices lingered on in many of the immigrant ancestors found in the Appalachians. In fact, they formed one of the largest immigrant groups living deep in the Appalachian mountains.

The raising of sheep was built into the early Appalachian pioneer imperative. Like so many of the customs familiar to the European immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and also those from other points of origin with agrarian roots, sheep were fundamental to survival. As an international livelihood, sheep flocks and along with those of goats are closely tied to the stories of agrarian cultures.


What Cecil Sharp added to sheep history was the discovery and transcription of an English folk song that no doubt flowed from the music and lives of early sheep farmers. While his discovery was not in the Borderlands but was probably in the Norfolk area of England, it captured the centrality of sheep to everyday agrarian life. 

When Cecil Sharp made his journey to America and eventually to Appalachia he wove the common elements together. Other song and ballad collectors preceded Cecil Sharp, but few had his broad recognition. When Sharp identified the British elements found in Appalachian songs and ballads he opened the flood-gates to other musicologists to marry Appalachia to “Merri Old England.” 

While Sharp was interested in the music, the music held a history that was less obvious. This is the relationship of the music to agrarian practice. While the growing obsession with “Merri Old England” in early twentieth-century America assured a close historical musical bond it also revealed something of the common agrarian practices. The catchy alliteration of Sharp’s collected songs underlines the importance of sheep in the daily lives of agrarian Europeans and their ancestors in the Appalachians.  Alliteration and all its musical overtones came naturally to the early oral culture of England and Appalachia. Mother Goose rhymes such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers … etc. ” is well known on both sides of the Atlantic as are many other ditties. But, just try saying “Cecil Sharp and sheep-shearing,” and see what lyrical lapses leap from your tongue and fix on your memory. Songs of shearing sheep are not at all uncommon, especially in families with a weaving willfulness — a trait that springs from sheep-herders and that abounds in the mountains of the Central Appalachians and across the world. Our first school yards were the pastures of the world.


Even as we sleep, we are not far from the sheep pasture. It is no small wonder that when we speak of dreaming, we also often speak of “counting sheep.” There is a very practical origin for that numerical association. It was the duty of the herdsman to know the number of sheep in his herd. It was a daily practice.  Counting sheep is deeply etched into the fabric of descendants of sheep-herders and deep in the historical agrarian psyche. We have been counting sheep for as long as we have joined our lives with the practice of raising sheep and other herds of animals. Sheep have been a part of our history as a country from the beginning of European settlement and have had considerable influence on our practical and formal education.  At one time Kentucky led the nation in the number of sheep. For Kentuckians, that is a lot of counting and a lot of dreaming.

Yet, Cecil Sharp was a collector of songs, not sheep, nor wool though he shows all the instincts of a weaver, dreamer, and numerator. He began his collecting of folk ballads in the English countryside. There, it was inevitable that he would encounter a myriad of sheep and those who tended them. Those country sheep herders had a deep association with alliterative language and ballads and ditties. Some references to sheep were sure to appear, and they did.

The song that Sharp recorded on his journey to Norfolk was one that succinctly captures sheep and their shepherds. That ballad from his song-gathering encounters, was published in a small book he edited called 100 English Folk Songs [ published by Oliver Ditson Co., Theo. Presser Co. Distributors, Philadelphia, 1916].

SONGS FOR ALL TIME [Songs of All Time]

One of the songs in Sharp’s collection found its way into another small book of collected folk songs. The Songs for All Time printed at Pine Mountain Settlement School was issued by the Council of Southern Mountain Workers c. 1946, and was intended to be a resource for “recreation material in the Highland [Appalachian Highlands] area.” It was a utilitarian collection of songs for social gatherings that is largely dependent on the rich oral tradition of the Appalachian region and that contained many familiar tropes that would be recognized in Great Britain. The Foreword tells us that

The contents, folk songs for the most part, were compiled by a committee which has made practical use of them with singing groups. Where tunes and words depend on oral tradition, innumerable versions usually exist — some of them perhaps better than [the] variants included. There is no version which can be called the correct one, but the committee has chosen those which it has found satisfactory in the light of their lasting qualities and the ease with which they can be learned. Modal melodies are not always easy to introduce to those unfamiliar with such music, but practically all songs included have been put to the proof: given a little time and repetition they “sing well” and become dear to the heart of the singer.

Song For All Times [Songs of All Time], Copyright, 1946, by Cooperative Recreation Service, (Forward). [4 editions published in 1946 in English and Undetermined and held by 29 WorldCat member libraries worldwide.]

On the back of the booklet, Songs For All times, there appears a short essay by George Pullen Jackson, an American musicologist, and educator. Pullen was a pioneer in the field of Southern (U.S.) hymnody and popularized the spurious term “white spirituals” to describe “fasola“* singing. [*fasola= harp singing or shape-note singing] Pullen says

…Sing, preferably your own songs, brother. Live your own song life and be proud of it. Don’t let the I-dont’-know-a-thing-about-music complex trouble you. Don’t let the processed and canned music lower your musical morale. If you are a mature person, re-learn and re-sing the songs of your childhood and youth. (You’ll be surprised at the large admixture of genuine folk songs among your remembered ditties.)

George Pullen Jackson, comment from Songs for All Times [Songs of All Time]

What George Pullen Jackson sensed was the power of music to heal and make joyful the day when it is pulled from routine experiences and even more when it is derived from a shared experience. The shearing of sheep and other communal activities of pioneer families brings home the satisfaction of sharing with neighbors the sometimes daunting tasks that an agrarian life demanded. Further,  Jackson in his remarks shares with Cecil Sharp the understanding of the healing power of song as it is remembered across all time and as it derives from the common stories of living.

While there is no direct knowledge of the following song appearing in the original musical repertoire of the Central Appalachians, the sentiment would clearly have resonated with the mountaineers. The Sheep-Shearing, was collected by Cecil Sharp in his 100 English Folk Songs for a good reason. He described it as “very popular among English country folk” and “in existence before 1760.” His sensitive ear could also, no doubt, frame the picture evoked by the lyrics in this and in his other collected songs


How delightful to see,
In these evenings in Spring,
The sheep going home to the fold.

The master doth sing,
As he views everything,
And his dog goes before him where told,
And his dog goes before him where told.

The sixth month of the year,
In the month called June,
When the weather’s too hot to be borne,
The master doth say,
As he goeth on his way:
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn,
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn.”

Now as for those sheep,
They’re delightful to see,
They’re a blessing to a man on his farm.
For the flesh it is good,
It’s the best of all food,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm.

Now the sheep they are all shorn,
And the wool carried home,
Here’s a health to our master and flock:
And if we should stay,
Until the last go away,
I’m afraid ’twill be past twelve o’clock,
I’m afraid t’will be past twelve o’clock.

Cecil Sharp, 100 English Folk Songs, …”In existence before 1760.”


CECIL SHARP AND MAUDE KARPELES Visit to Pine Mountain Settlement School




FARM GUIDE to Sheep Goats Weaving and Dyeing


Pine Mountain Settlement School

“‘Aunt Jude’ Turner, Big Laurel, about 1925” feeding sheep. [nace_II_album_010.jpg]

TAGS: sheep, agriculture, livestock, shearing, sheep shearing, wool, spinning, carding, weaving, dyeing, shepherds, textiles, looms, pastures, mutton, Thomas D. Clark, Aunt Jude Turner, Southeast Kentucky Sheep Producers Association, Patrick Angel, Merino sheep, Shetland sheep, Kentucky Sheep and Goat Development Office (KSGDO), Sarabeth Parido, sheep consultants, The Woolery


“The hills shall skip like lambs,” she sang
Of the mountain scallops ‘gainst the sky engraved.
Anew with gushing torrents laved
Were the mountain sides, and gay
With sarvice and red maples braved.

Sarah Marcia Loomis, Staff PMSS  c. 1928


The photograph of Aunt Jude Turner feeding her sheep, seen above, is one of the most iconic photographs in the Pine Mountain Settlement School collections. Scattered throughout the early photographs taken at the School there are images of sheep, suggesting that they were an integral part of the landscape and life in the early years of the north side of the Pine Mountain. This image captures the essence of “romantic” sheep raising. But, was it all bucolic?

Bucolic, serene, and pastoral, are all words often used to describe sheep at pasture, Sometimes these words are found on early Pine Mountain Settlement photographs or on notes that refer to them. These are words that conjure up years gone by and times when many farms in Kentucky had flocks of sheep. But how many sheep were there? And, where do sheep figure into the agrarian life of Kentucky, and particularly into the life of eastern Kentucky? A historical review is revealing and surprising.

THOMAS D. CALRK AND Agrarian Kentucky (1977)

Thomas D. Clark, one of the most esteemed of Kentucky’s historians tackles some of those questions in his small but important book, Agrarian Kentucky, (1977). He tells us that

“The rolling country hills and valleys of Kentucky present a massive and alluring canvas. Dotted with peaceful farmsteads and modest cabins, the land collectively represents the substance and spirit of home. Its rurality has been the womb of a nostalgic history into which Kentuckians have often retreated …

Clark, Thomas D. Agrarian Kentucky, University of Kentucky Press, 1977, p.x. (Kentucky Bicentennial Bookshelf).

Clark’s history of Kentucky’s agrarian past can be eye-opening to those who choose to only give singular recognition to one Kentucky herbivorous animal — and that, the horse. The Kentucky horse was important, but what Clark makes clear in his little book on agrarian life is that along with the horse came a myriad of other farm animals that formed the backbone of rural life and, ultimately, industrial life in early Kentucky.

Agrarian Kentucky Clark tells us, is much more complex than the culture that has grown up around horses and crafts and memories of early pioneers. The common cattle, turkeys, hogs, chickens, goats, and sheep followed the early pioneers as they wagoned — or walked into the western wilderness. Often with possessions slung across the back of a horse or mule, the early pioneers traveled down the Great Wagon Road that ran through the Shenandoah Valley, and as they looked out on the great virgin forests of North Carolina, the great green valleys carved by meandering rivers in southwestern Virginia, and the vast game-lands of what was to become Kentucky, it must have looked like paradise.

As the migrations of settlers and their livestock increased into North Carolina and then back up to southwestern Virginia and into what is now eastern Kentucky, the pioneers were awed to see a wilderness dotted with herbivores —with buffalo, deer, and herds of elk. As they crossed over the Cumberland Gap and the mountains opened gradually into plains, there were even larger herds of buffalo and elk. It was a land ready for settlement and herbivores of all varieties.

What is little recognized is how quickly non-native farm animal species of almost every variety flowed into the state following the early arrival of the pioneers. Large numbers of European sheep were among the earliest arrivals. The livestock that came down the Wilderness Road and on the many flatboats floated down the Ohio was not a trickle. It was a torrent. The animals came, into the broad, sweeping landscape of Kentucky and they quickly adapted and grew strong.

As the pioneers settled in they added the animals that had remained for many of them a part of the nostalgic and bucolic memories of their life in other times and other countries. As wealth began to grow, the animals they owned became, for the settlers a symbol of new-found wealth in a conquered paradise. The scrub cow, mule, nag, sheep, and goats thrived on the lush forage of Kentucky. The evident health and strength of the animal caught the imagination of the early pioneer and began to give way to a sensitivity to the breed of their animals. Breeding began to grow in importance, and with it, the ferocious art of livestock trading.

The many early settlers who came down the Ohio on their flatboats also floated their sparse but precious cargo on the Kentucky, the Cumberland, and the Rockcastle rivers in the mid-eighteenth century. One of the earliest incursions was that represented by the party of the pioneer settler Benjamin Logan, known as “St. Asaph.” He settled in the area of Stanford, then called Logan’s Fort, in what later became Lincoln County. The year was 1775. The later settlements of Lexington, 42 miles north, and Somerset, 32 miles south, placed Logan’s Fort in a critical position for shaping agrarian practice in the heart of Kentucky’s lush grasslands — the Bluegrass.


A second route of the pioneer into the wilderness of Kentucky was along what is now known as the Wilderness Road. This primary “road” followed the well-used Indian trails that came from Virginia and that passed through the Cumberland Gap where Kentucky now touches the border of Tennessee. It is this more southern route that is central to an understanding of the early Central Appalachian pioneer family. This growing population of both early-comers and late-comers found the close mountains and private lifestyle of the terrain comforting — and cheap.  They comprised the early settlers of eastern Kentucky and it is not surprising to find names today of the common ancestor who first settled the land. Nolans, Turners, Metcalfs, Boggs, and others formed a closely bonded origin and lifestyle. Sheep were very much a part of their history. 

The Wilderness Road was the route taken by Daniel Boone and his party that eventually led the famous party to their settlement at Boonesboro Fort on the banks of the Kentucky River. When Daniel Boone and his party settled into Boonesboro Fort, it was the same year that the Benjamin Logan party settled near Stanford, or Logan’s Fort, not far away. The magical year for both was 1775.

These two 1775 primary settlements introduced many of the herbivores that became an integral force in growing Kentucky agriculture and that today continue to be foundational to farming in Kentucky. For example, the number of livestock accompanying the early migrants was generally dependent on the number of family members. Historian Clark gives us an interesting formula for dependency. He tells us that a family of four would most likely have brought with them, “... a horse and a mule, a bull, three cows, a ram and three ewes, four boars, five sows and fifteen pigs, a rooster, and two hens.” This estimate is based on what is known about the settlement patterns of the earliest pioneers. But by 1860, this generous allotment of livestock per family of four (an uncommonly low number for Kentucky families of that time) was curtailed by the dwindling supply of pasture. The decrease in pasture, says Clark, changes the estimated distribution of livestock to the family size and is far less generous. He writes

In 1860, by comparison, 21 persons would have had to depend on a horse and a mule; 6 1/2 would have looked to a single cow for milk; 2 would have had a single pig to satisfy their needs for pork; and 1 1/2 persons would have fared better sharing a single beef cow.

Clark, Agrarian … p.37.

However, not all things were equal in the early settlements when it came to sheep. Clark fails to mention sheep in the 1860 picture. By that year the gentle herbivore had already run up against some obstacles. The pioneers who took up settlement in the mountainous regions of eastern Kentucky soon found that sheep needed extra attention. Unlike the hardy hogs that were left to their own devices to forage, mate, give birth, and fatten, did not easily fill the smokehouses of the settlers. The sheep were higher maintenance. They needed to be monitored and protected from cougars and other predators, particularly the growing packs of roaming settler dogs that found the docile sheep an easy target. Further, there were few flat grasslands in the mountains and the uneven uncultivated terrain readily grew the most bothersome cockles, briars, beggers lice, and many prickly burrs that tangled the rich fleece of the sheep and refused to be easily coaxed from their thick coats.

Nevertheless, the early pioneers of eastern Kentucky persisted. While they reduced the number of sheep in their flock according to their household number, they did so thoughtfully. They often measured the flock number against the amount of wool that might come from each sheep sheared and how much could be traded and how much spun into wool for their large families. They grew adept at determining how many skeins of wool could be spun from the pounds of wool on each sheep. It was estimated that one adult sheep could produce about twenty pounds of fleece. It was a good educational mathematical exercise the maintenance of their household “budgets.” It was this simple mathematical formula and others that pointed to a growing disparity in agrarian practice in the two states of Kentucky. Geography had begun to define the distribution of agrarian wealth throughout the Blue Grass and in the eastern regions of Kentucky and it was increasingly uneven.


While the migration of early settlers had slowed by the turn of the nineteenth century, the traffic across the Cumberland Gap had picked up. But, this traffic was largely going East. The new Eastward traffic was the surge of drovers pushing their livestock along the Wilderness Road to a growing livestock market in cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, and south to Charleston. It’s estimated that while both the eastern mountain migrations and the Blue Grass migrations of settlers were staggering in their rapid rise during the last half of the eighteenth century, the livestock traffic exporting out of the two areas until the middle of the nineteenth century, was far greater.

Pioneer migrations clearly shaped the future of domestic herbivores, while they also reflected the role that choice played in the formation of distinct cultural lifestyles in Kentucky. The introduction of domestic herbivores into Kentucky defined the two migrant cultures. Where the two cultures met was in their adept dialog at “horse-trading.” The success of both highlanders and lowlanders in managing their livestock wisely and becoming clever “horse-traders” and drovers, kept agrarian life vital in the Blue Grass and all along the Wilderness Road for well over a century. The vibrant trade in livestock was an economic stream as critical to the economy of Kentucky as was the later lumber and coal boom. In the two latter economies, eastern Kentucky excelled…. and not. Neither coal nor trees could quickly be replenished in the market.

Yet, not all was rosy in the livestock trade, either. Thomas Clark, tells us a cautionary tale about the meteoric rise of the Kentucky livestock trade. He describes what he calls the “greatest tragedy” of the boom in livestock production in Kentucky. That was the tragic loss of the state’s lead in sheep production to the poor control of vagrant dogs. It was a loss of control that was both a civic and a political tragedy.

The story goes that because of the dominant political party’s fear of alienating their voter base, legislative action to restrain canines from marauding sheepfolds was never taken. The dogs won over the sheep. Today we train dogs to watch over sheep and goats, but in the earlier years, dogs often ran wild in a pack, much like wolves, that were even more destructive. During the early eras of Pine Mountain Settlement School, the various Directors struggled with similar agrarian tragedies. The early agrarian tragedies were also educational tragedies.


When Uncle William Creech married Aunt Sal in 1866 they struck out on their own to shape a life for themselves in the Pine Mountain Valley. Like so many pioneers before him, Uncle William brought the necessary sheep along with his new family to the Pine Mountain Valley. Uncle William wrote about the early years in his brief autobiography

“I will now get back to my subject of farm work. So early the next spring my wife children and myself went to getting ready for another crop, them to burning logs and brush and me plowing the ground and planting corn, which we worked hard until the first of August, Clearing land was the greatest industry for the fall and winter for several years until we had enough for what we needed for wheat, corn, rye and flax and buckwheat. In the dry season of the year we had to grind our meal on a hand mill which was very hard work. By raising flax and sheep my wife carded and spun and wove cloth to make clothes for us all while I tanned leather and made all the shoes that we wore. While the days was warm and dry we plowed and hoed corn and wet days and by night I worked in my blacksmith shop and my wife knit and spun. But when the children got large enough to do work the boys helped me and girls helped their mother. But all worked to gather in the cornfield.”

William Creech. A Short Sketch of My Life, after 1913 (written for Ethel de Long)

It is education we now know to be the backbone of successful agrarian practice and few schools have worked harder to integrate the two. At Pine Mountain Katherine Pettit, one of the co-founders of the School, shaped the idea of agrarian training as a kind of “Industrial training” in which she championed both formal education, civic education, and indirectly, political education. In her agrarian “classroom” she aimed to take her passion for the agrarian life and shape students into new citizens who could help shape a new social and civil society in the mountains. Agriculture was a persuasive model and not, as some have claimed, a prop for a cultural agenda. Like the later Ayrshire herd, sheep make for beautiful pictures, but farming sheep and milk cows makes for a marvelous education.

Pettit has been accused of being driven by her cultural interests and her desire to foster cultural programs at Pine Mountain to the exclusion of other needs at the School — particularly agricultural needs. Certainly, weaving and Appalachian weavers were never far from Pettit’s eye, but it was the land and its agricultural and educational potential that drove the bulk of her agendas.


In her quest to understand the richness of the Central Appalachians, Pettit discovered “kivers” and they became the focus of her collecting instincts. In a personal letter that Pettit wrote to a friend in 1911, she outlines her fascination with “kivers,” the woven bed covers, the products of many mountain looms. Generally woven of wool raised by the family, spun, and then dyed with natural plants, these “kivers” or coverlets were prized possessions in the mountain families. Katherine Pettit had a passion for “kivers.” She certainly traveled miles to go see and seek her “kivers” but it soon became the “kivers” connection to the educational process of arriving at a “kiver” that held her attention and later her crusade. In instinct, she was a farmer in training and an educator before she was a collector.

… we had to hurry up to the head of Greasy to see Mrs. Shell and her coverlids [weavings]. She is over sixty years old and had just finished shearing her 100 sheep. Then we walked four miles along the foot of Pine Mountain down to Mr. [William] Creech‘s where they had looms, spinning wheels, hackles, etc., and had been longing for years for somebody to come along and tell them where they could get some flax seed to plant. They had been hoping for a school for 30 years and offered 100 acres of land.

Page 8 – [1911_pettit_ltr_0008-1.jpg]

Evelyn K. Wells captures another part of the Pettit-sheep story in a letter home to her family in 1918, in which she again describes the Shell family

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=56474 Picture of Shell sheep. Sheep eating neighbor’s corn … “The other day I called on Aunt Sis Shell [Mary Elizabeth Nolan Shell]. She took me into the bedroom to see her wool, the fleeces of 50 sheep, black, Southdown and white, piled high on three feather beds, we have picked out some fleeces — mine, a lovely Southdown, gray-brown, to be woven into a linsey skirt for next winter.”

EVELYN K. WELLS 1918 Excerpts From Letters Home.
Aunt “Polly” Mary Ann Shell Day knitting, and Josiah (?) with dried “shucky” beans and peppers above their head and fireplace behind them. [hook_album_2blk__014.jpg]

Writing to her family two years earlier in 1916, Evelyn Wells again singles out the Shell family whom she had just visited and suggests that not all sheep farming was bucolic. She describes the visit, “He was most entertaining, telling us all about the game one used to be able to catch, and conditions when the country was really wild.” ….. Later, in her letter, she describes another visit to the Shell home where

“I saw a quaint procession passing, through the bottomland. Aunt Sis stalking along, behind her Uncle John with his beard and slouch hat, and after them a boy driving a sledge drawn by a team of oxen. They are getting in their corn because the sheep are eating it….” 

EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts From Letters Home.

It is the agriculture that sits behind each “coverlid” that became a primary concern to Pettit and her community of subsistence farmers.


Kingman Album. Woman with sheep following her. [c. 1920’s]  [kingman_021d]

The raising of sheep and the issues of negotiating the open pastures in the first decades of the twentieth century were a source of constant contestation. Usually, disputes were worked out neighbor to neighbor but sometimes — not. Pigs were of the greatest concern as they were often the most destructive farm animal on the loose. Sheep, it appears, could also create issues, such as foraging in a neighbor’s corn patch. One story relayed by Pine Mountain staff member Alice Cobb describes the common incident in which sheep eat a neighbor’s corn crop.

Another incident, also described by Alice Cobb in her brief vignettes of life in the Pine Mountain valley, is more serious and ends up in court but as the incident is re-told it becomes a story of “clever justice”.

All evidence in the Pine Mountain Valley shows that the raising of sheep and the shearing of the sheep for wool was persistent and intermittently practiced in dwindling numbers until the late 1980s. Again Pine Mountain staff member Alice Cobb describes her observations as an “outsider” of a household that is “too evasive to be captured”

There are fifty million “schoolhouses in the foothills” stories to be dramatized, published, gobbled and washed down with laughter and tears. The truth is that the situation is too evasive to be captured except in a net of romance or a mire of realism, and every small incident has its share of both. We from the outside come down to the hills. Many of us see the quaint picture of Mag shearing her sheep and spinning the wool, Grannie Hall dipping vegetable dyes and weaving rare patterns in rare colors; ….

Alice Cobb, Letters

What Cobb does in her insightful and graphic descriptions of life in the Pine Mountain Valley is capture and explode the romantic notion of culture as a singularity only recognized in the photograph or romantic or picturesque story posed to inform the outsider. What she draws our attention to is the pervasive and often grinding agrarian labor of most all life in the Pine Mountain Valley. The multitude of hours it takes to raise sheep, goats, and cows; the back-breaking labor of farming a steep hillside; the desire for education that is devoured by the hours at the simple tasks of making a life. Maintaining a mountain home is an education, but not of the schoolhouse type. The maintenance of that education was not bucolic or picturesque until its conversion into memories and reverie.

The tasks associated with an agrarian life are labor-intensive and demanding on every member of the family. A subsistence farm is not so much a culture as it is a composite of the family’s relationship to the land, their husbandry of their animals, and their household skills in managing their small plots of land and large families. An agrarian existence is often centered on the success or failure of the agriculture skill of the family. The enhancement of this life and the preservation of the memories were at the heart of Pettit’s mission. The “kivers” were her “school books”.

Even earlier, in 1911, three years before Pine Mountain was founded, Katherine Pettit and a large group from Berea traveled to eastern Kentucky. A companion on the journey, Maria McVay [McVey ?], described the trip in a serialized diary published in a major Cincinnati newspaper. Pettit mentions the trip briefly in an early 1911 letter to potential donors for a new mountain School in Harlan County. Written while she was still at Hindman she recalled her first impression of the mountainous eastern region.

Writing from Hindman, she describes the life of families in the Pine Mountain Valley that she witnessed on her very first long trip to the region in 1899. With that group gathered by Berea faculty member Henry Mixter Penniman and other travelers, she was clearly moved by the beauty and the deprivation of the area. Surrounded by kindred spirits, including the suffragist Madeline McDowell Breckenridge,, and the outspoken geographer, “Nellie” Semple [Ellen Churchill Semple], who all had their views about the skills of farming, Pettit began to shape her plans for a school in the Pine Mountain valley.

In her Letter to Friends, she describes the remote valley and with a reflection of deep regret, she also describes the push and pull of industrialization that was manifested in the railroad then entering the mountains. In an effort to prepare mountain communities for the coming industrialization, she began to form a vision that would take native craft and mix it with informed industrial training and traditional educational coursework much like the program she had initiated at Hindman Settlement.

Pettit writes

” …. we had to hurry up to the head of Greasy to see Mrs. Shell and her coverlids [weavings]. She is over sixty years old and had just finished shearing her 100 sheep. Then we walked four miles along the foot of Pine Mountain down to Mr. [William] Creech‘s where they had looms, spinning wheels, hackles, etc., and had been longing for years for somebody to come along and tell them where they could get some flax seed to plant. They had been hoping for a school for 30 years and offered 100 acres of land.….

While we were lying there in those cliffs, looking up at the sky and the eagles soaring above us, we heard the whistle of the locomotive and then [(strike through) our guide] Christopher Columbus [Creech] told us it was the first passenger train going up the Cumberland River twenty miles above Harlan Town to Looney Creek on the Black Mountain and Wasioto Railroad. You can imagine the shock I had when I realized that near this remote mountain region where I stood twelve [(striike-through) eleven] years ago was the railroad. 

Katherine Pettit. Correspondence n.d. (describes an 1899 trip) https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=39951

There, on that mountain cliff, it seemed, the dream she held for the region merged with that of Aunt Louize in Sally Loomis’ poem, Neverstill, “The hills shall skip like lambs,” she sang —- Of the mountain scallops ‘gainst the sky engraved.


Along the Pine Mountain valley sheep were found on many early subsistence farms. In 1918, there is evidence that the Shell’s relationship with sheep was one that was long and deep as found in their knowledge of sheep raising and of weaving. It is probable that the Shell family had one of the earliest sheep flocks in the Pine Mountain Valley.


Emblematic of the return to models of an earlier time was the institution of the Community Farmer’s Day, later called “Fair Day. ” It was a day when the community could come together to show their skills in agriculture practice and animal husbandry. Community Day (Fair Day) was a time when students competed for prizes as the best hog-caller, and, yes, sheep-caller. Fair Day is a day that is still celebrated at Pine Mountain. Does anyone know how to call a sheep, today?

“How many of you ever heard hog calling? After some persuasion by Mr. Morris, the audience warmed up to the occasion and, with Old Aunt Till leading, half a dozen, one of them, little four-year-old Barbara Wilder [Brit and Ella Wilder’s daughter], filed up onto the porch and called the hogs or called the sheep, each in his or her own peculiar idiom. I know now why Mrs. [Alice Joy] Keith, when she first came, wondered what that train was that whistled down the valley at a certain time early each morning.” Community Day 1938


The stories of farming sheep were not all joy and bliss. At Pine Mountain, the stories of dogs and sheep also took a darkly humerous turn in a well-known local feud. The story of that feud told by staff member Alice Cobb is about the uneasy relationship of dogs to sheep and the “price” paid for allowing one to dominate the other. Alice tells of an incident in the Pine Mountain valley that resulted in a trial and a long-lived but — on the face of it — amusing animosity. The story revolves around the famous trial of Jim Boggs’ dogs killing Abner’s (Abner Boggs) sheep) https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=49255 

Bish is the father of Jim Boggs [see Boggs Family], whom we visit at Turkey Fork occasionally. One time I asked Jim what relation he was to Abner, and he said, “He’s my half uncle, but we don’t claim no kin”. That was my first realization that the disagreement was really serious, so after that I avoided the subject in both homes. But the other night Abner brought it up himself. He asked me if I read the papers, and I confessed that I didn’t as much as I should. “Well,” he said, “Miss Cobbs, you’re going to be a reading even in the Indiana papers, some of these days, about little old Abner Bogg a shootin’ Jim Boggs. Cause as sure as that feller steps acrosst my paths a aimin’ to inconvenience me, I’m agoin’ to take a shot right for his heart. Of course I wasn’t alarmed, because Abner wouldn’t hurt anything — he just talks all the time. But he went on to tell us about the famous dog trial at Big Laurel, which seemed to be one of his quarrels with Jim. It seems that Jim’s dogs had killed Abner’s sheep — at least Abner thought they had, and he went and got a warrant, and arrested the dogs, brought them up to Big Laurel to the magistrate (that was Clarence Patterson), and they had a trial, with Bish BoggsSilus [Silas ?] TurnerJohn Lewis, and someone else as the jury. Well the end of it was that they indicted the dogs for murder, and the jury voted for them to be sentenced, and then Jim Boggs went over to Harlan and got himself appointed a Deputy Sherriff and that gave him some influence with Clarence Patterson, and so the dogs were let out on good behaviour, and Abner’s lawsuit came to nothing.

Now if that isn’t real artistry, I don’t know what it is. Nobody but Abner Boggs would have had sufficient imagination to do a thing like that — he is truly an artist.

ALICE COBB STORIES Farewell Trip to Line Fork June 14, 1937 https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=49255 

AGRARIAN-INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION “Sheep Calling” and the Community Fair

How did Pettit’s vision of a new agrarian-industrial education in the mountains begin? It began with an old set of customs married to a new and human-level industrial vision and idea in the mind of the Pettit, her co-founder, Ethel de Long, and her mentor, William Creech. Agriculture was an opportunity for social reconstruction and if a cultural re-birth of skilled craft could be interwoven — all the better. Agriculture and the raising of sheep were given a fervent push by the forceful personality of Katherine Pettit and those who were inspired by her and who followed her.

In 1941, the announcement of the Community Fair called forward a past more than a century old and a past that had a tradition at the Fair. But one that held promise for future centuries.

ANNUAL COMMUNITY DAY TO BE HELD OCTOBER 11 — HOST JUNIOR CLASS to dance and sing, eat ice cream, watch the set running and dramatization, practice sheep and hog calling; hosted by the Junior class; entertainment by five rural schools in the surrounding community. “Pine Mountain is keeping alive folk ways that are in danger of being lost or forgotten in the swift pace of the machine age, which is even now finding its way into the most remote sections of the Kentucky mountains.”

Volume 6 Pine Mountain Settlement School, September 1941
Harlan County, Kentucky, No. 1

As they did so many times, Pine Mountain looked to earlier practices of agrarian ways to enhance their current practice and to offset the growing cultural, social, and environmental impact of coal mining on the region. During both wars coal mining camps were springing up all over Harlan County and in the surrounding counties. Enormous loads of coal and young men were leaving the mountains to satisfy the war need. The reference to “machine age” is an indirect reference to a pre-war popular book by Malcolm Ross, The Machine Age in the Hills, 1933 — a favorite of Glyn Morris, director during the 1930s and early 40s.

While the School was lamenting the passing of earlier times and struggling with the ravages of mining, the number of sheep in Kentucky had been growing. The 2013 issue of the UK School of Agriculture Magazine, “No Business Like Sheep Business,” tells us that in 1942 the number of sheep in Kentucky had grown to over 1.4 million sheep. In the United States, there were 56.2 million sheep. Kentucky held the record for the most sheep per square mile of any state east of the Mississippi, according to the article.


Malcolm Army’s grandsons, Michael and Eric with Burton Rogers and the sheep, 1980s. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Arny Fullar. [pmss_archives_arny_ photo1.jpg]

In the early 1950s there was an attempt to bring sheep back to the Pine Mountain Valley at the School. Sometime in 1953-54 a small flock of Merino sheep was purchased and was placed in the fields of the school. The Ayrshire herd had been sold and five beef cattle were purchased and they accompanied the sheep. The long-time farmer, William Hayes, had moved across the mountain to a new job as the Forest Ranger for the Kentenia Ranger Station and Brit Wilder, who carried many responsibilities on the farm, was assigned as acting head of Maintenance and the direction of the reduced farm. Brit was given sheep duty.

The School was slowly adjusting to cooperation with Harlan County Schools in the new Community School and everything was focused on making that educational experience work and the livestock were not high on the school’s radar. Pulled in many directions at once, in 1958-1959 the pilot trial of sheep at Pine Mountain ended, most likely due to the over-extension of staff to provide for their care. Brit Wilder was clearly over-committed by his responsibility to the farm and to maintenance.

In the 1970s there were intermittent attempts to bring back sheep and to re-focus on weaving. The period was marked by brief programs as the School that attempted to integrate sheep into the new Environmental Education offerings, Further, it was believed that the sheep could add to the new community Intervention program which also used weaving as an integrated part of its educational programming. It was during this time that community artisan, Sarah Bailey, led the School back to sheep.


Sarah Bailey was one of the most dedicated of the later crafts persons to work at the School and her efforts to bring natural dyeing back to the program and to maintain a weaving studio is fondly remembered by those who were privileged to work with her. Her full biography charts the important work she did for the School and chronicles her deep commitment to the craft of weaving and so many other mountain crafts. Her recommendations for a craft program are sound and still consulted but her reflections on sheep are not known.


Sheep have again entered into the Pine Mountain Settlement School conversation. Under the new direction of Preston Jones, the School has re-focused on the richness of the School’s agricultural heritage and married that to his skills and knowledge of agriculture. Preston’s years of outstanding work with Grow Appalachia and the recent enthusiasm of Patrick Angel, a former Pine Mountain Board member and sheep farmer, have led to new agrarian interests. The interests center on sheep and goat farming and a series of conversations have revitalized ideas around a demonstration project of sheep raising.

On August 13, 2020 a meeting was held via ZOOM to discuss the possibilities of a collaboration that would bring sheep back to Pine Mountain and would again link the agrarian past with a craft future. In attendance were Preston Jones, PMSS Executive Director, Patrick Angel, a sheep farmer and President of the Southeast Kentucky Sheep Growers Association [SEKSPA], Sarabeth Parido, a sheep farmer, wool producer, and craft workshop organizer, Ann Angel Eberhardt,co-editor of this website, and Helen Wykle, PMSS Board member and co-editor of the PMSS Archive web site.

Sheep and Malcolm Army’s grandsons, Michael and Eric with Burton Rogers, 1980s. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Arny Fullar. [pmss_archives_arny_ photo1.jpg]

UPDATE:  In the Fall of 2022 sheep returned to the campus of Pine Mountain in a cooperative project with Southeast Kentucky Sheep Growers Association [SEKSPA]

The group discussed resources and options that could be exercised under COVID restrictions. Also discussed were a range of options for the types of sheep and institutional needs and the economic impact of new directions. The two options of raising sheep for meat or for wool were discussed. Both the agrarian idea and the craft focus were seen to have good instructional potential for the School as well as a revenue stream. The various programs that might be developed around a small demonstration sheep project at the School were extensive but seen to be very feasible based on models offered by PMSS and by Patrick and Sarabeth.

If there is interest in exploring this path of returning sheep to the School and building workshops around this new farm/craft direction, please contact the PMSS office and schedule time to speak with Jason Brashear, Interim Director. It is important that all interested parties explore all the options this opportunity provides. 

Working with the Kentucky Sheep and Goat Development Office (KSGDO) in Frankfort and their craft consultant, Sarabeth Parido, is available to provide multiple educational workshops (small and COVID-safe) and/or virtual classes filmed at PMSS for distribution. Other options proposed in the meeting focused on the use of local and regional resources. Craft sessions were proposed as 3-5 hour sessions for very reasonable fees that would encompass a materials fee, registration fee, and cost of lodging and meals and that could be extended to seminar weekends, and other time frames, depending on COVID guidelines and enrollment. Pine Mountain is ideally suited for small groups and “distancing.” The large weaving studio at the school has 24 operational looms of variable size and a small stockpile of supplies. Examples of possible instruction workshops follow

  • weaving instruction classes (based on levels)
  • natural fiber workshops
  • natural dye workshops
  • felting workshop
  • raising sheep and managing small sheep farms, how-to and hands-on
  • various highly skilled artisans offering weaving and wool craft classes
  • basket weaving with wool
  • knitting worshops
  • instruction and guidelines for establishing a small sheep-centered business
  • goat cheese
  • goat soap
  • goat milk processing
0046a P. Roettinger Album.”Sheep Shearing, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, and Mrs. Joe Day.” [Woman standing next to a barn on left, watching man and woman sheer a sheep.]



http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/Magazine/2013/Summer2013/story3.html The Magazine, Univ. of KY Sheep article –excellent
No Business Like Sheep Business – UK College of Agriculturewww2.ca.uky.edu › Magazine › Summer2013 › story3

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=62470 Describes Wildflower and Bird Weekends, Summer Spinning Bee, led by local craftswoman Sarah Bailey and members of the Kentucky Weaver’s Guild. 119 attenders went through all the old-time intricate processes of shearing the sheep, carding and spinning the wool into yarn, dyeing yarn with vegetable dyes, and finally weaving the patterns. Textile Workshop. 1974-75

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=61483 Pictures of sheep … 1970s

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=53122 Aunt Jude Turner picture with sheep. (008) 1925

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=52294 Shearing sheep (Shell family)

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=48966 Alice Cobb Story of raising sheep and living off the land.

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=48730 Florence Reeves story about Aunt Phronie .. describes her “pre delight” the care of sheep and took peace ad quiet as she carded ad spun the wool….

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=47705 Mary Rogers subject directory: weaving of sheep wool

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=15574 Sarah Bailey 5 entries …as she demonstrated how to shear, card, dye, and spin sheep’s wool. “THE COMMUNITY. Old friends of the School would have especially enjoyed the Spinning Bee held last summer under the direction of Mrs. Sarah Bailey, neighbor and well-known craftswoman. She and members of the Kentucky Weaver’s Guild led the 119 attendees through all the old-time intricate processes of shearing the sheep, carding and spinning the wool into yarn, dyeing the yarn with vegetable dyes, and finally weaving the patterns. It was three days out of history!” On July 13, 1935, Sarah married Frank Bailey. The couple built their own house on a small farm where they raised a variety of farm animals, including sheep which provided the wool for Sarah’s spinning, weaving and knitting. Sarah was known for her excellent cooking skills, using produce grown in her enormous garden…”

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=41225 Aunt Nance Templeton. Great story on shearing and weaving with sheep wool….Alice Cobb as told by Pettit.

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=41126 Uncle Wiliam raising sheep before PMSS created…


No Business Like Sheep Business – UK College of Agriculturewww2.ca.uky.edu › Magazine › SUMMER2013 › story3

  • Jul 1, 2013 – Kentucky sheep producers are tapping into a rich history. Stone Age humans domesticated sheep 10,000 years ago in Asia Minor—the first farm animals on record. They were easy to handle, and they produced meat, milk, fiber, and shelter.


Pine Mountain Settlement School
Weaving at PMSS 1930s-1940s
Series: BY TOPIC – Arts & Crafts



Margaret Motter was a worker at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the 1920s and 30s and again in the 1940s. She served as Principal and teacher from 1928 until 1938, and as the Publicity Representative and Head of the English Department from 1946 until 1949.  She was a prolific writer and a clever and persuasive speaker.  Associated with those skills, was her importance to the School as a fund-raiser.  Many times she was asked to represent the Pine Mountain Settlement and to travel to distant cities to speak to special audiences that might find the programs at Pine Mountain worthy of support. Many times she managed to bring her favorite subject into the talk. In one instance she found the perfect audience for her interests and for those of Pine Mountain the Colonial Coverlet Guild of Chicago, Illinois.

Weaving had long been one of Miss Motter’s favorite crafts and she found many ways to integrate comments on the weaving program at Pine Mountain into her public speaking tours.  When she shared her interests with the Colonial Coverlet Guild* in  Chicago, Illinois, where she spoke on November 10, 1948, it was clear that her enthusiasm captured her audience. Miss Motter enjoyed this talk and so did her audience.

To accompany the talk to some 80 members of the Guild, she brought along many of the coverlets and weaving samples from Pine Mountain.  She described the origins of the patterns, dyes, and some of the stories that came along with the individual pieces. She was able to build a picture of the community of mountain weavers. She described how for many years weaving was a household necessity for mountain families and how that skill had been adopted by the School as part of the curriculum to ensure the continuation of the craft.  For many children in the community, weaving was even a new art as commercial fabrics began to dominate wardrobes by the turn of the century.

Motter emphasized how the art stayed with a number of the graduates from Pine Mountain and in some homes in the Pine Mountain valley, families established their own looms and weaving as a cottage industry to provide additional income for the family. Pine Mountain’s efforts to encourage weaving were shared by the organized cottage industry known as the Fireside Industries which broadly supported craft in the Appalachian mountains.

When Margaret Motter addressed the Colonial Coverlet Guild* she wrote out her talk in her unique abbreviated form and years later left Pine Mountain a copy of this talk and others, as well. Her talk is transcribed below.  Many of the abbreviations have been expanded in this version and individuals are identified, where known.  The talk is a window into weaving activity at the School and the role Miss Motter and others had in encouraging the continuation of this mountain traditional craft by integrating the craft into the Pine Mountain educational programs and offering it as a part of their Industrial Training program.  Further, the focus on weaving was melded to the social outreach of the School and was used to engage the broader community and to stimulate the potential for economic independence for many women in the community. In many ways weaving and the values of the settlement movement were well paired.


November 10th 1948
By Margaret Motter

Many of you are familiar I am sure with the institution and the dramatic beginnings of Pine Mountain Settlement School, but any sort of message about our school is incomplete without mentioning the name of William Creech, affectionately  known as “Uncle William.” Here was a man with a 3rd-grade education but with great vision who dreamed for 30 years of a school that would “holp” his people.

When he gave his land (all he had) [not quite!] he wrote some men in his un-lettered hand which we treasure. I want to give you the closing paragraph to remind you of the ever-recurring challenge from Uncle William to carry on —

“I don’t look for wealth for them ….

So through the years Pine Mountain has been serving an isolated rural community as an extension, housing a secondary and a vocational high school and as a center of culture, and social and economic welfare.

Uncle William believed it was “better for folkes children to learn how to work with their hands…”  In following this advice of Uncle William Pine Mountain has had from the beginning what we call a work program. Pupils pay $10.00 – $15.00 per month if they can afford it and work 2 1/2 hrs. per day and longer on Saturday.  This work program serves a dual purpose.  Children are made to feel the value of the education that they are earning thru work.  [It] keeps [their] self-respect, values and dignity of work itself and besides, through the work program the school is kept going. The children learn over a period of years and do all kinds of work connected with homemaking, farming, and some trades or vocations.  All work is done under supervision and changed every 9 weeks.  Children have on [the] whole a fine attitude ….

“One thing I don’t like is learnin’ but I like what hit makes you be…….”   [Comment by Brit Wilder one of the youngest students and the first to come to the school]

Now, a very popular part of our work program as well as an elective study during school hours is our weaving. I want to give you a few details about this department since you have been good enough to share in making this department function.

Our weaving room has recently been enlarged and we have space for more looms and better looms.  We have by no means enough to meet the demand.  We have 9 looms and one small one owned by the teacher.  6 of these were made at Berea, one at Pine Mountain after the Berea Style — 5 of the looms are 40″ and 4 are 22″-24″.  Since 6 of the looms were at Pine Mountain before 1924, I guess it is not an understatement [page 3] to say they have not the latest improvements!

Weaving Room: Bess Taylor, Reba Blevins nace_1_061a.jpg

Weaving Room: Bess Taylor, Reba Blevins c. late 1940s. nace_1_061a.jpg

Our teacher informed me that a Swedish weaver told her we are doing very well indeed with the equipment we have.  So you can see as time goes on we shall need to replace these older looms with better ones and to purchase a pair of badly-needed scales [?] for the weaving room.

I have brought you some samples of weaving done by our girls. We use rags from feed-sacks which are dyed at the school and woven into rugs.  Old rayon stock and any kind of woven underwear can be transformed in the weaving room into lovely bags.  We have a neighbor who does some spinning for us and [the] other yarns we buy.

I mentioned that our weaving is very popular.  Some girls who learned to weave have been able to get a loom at home and have continued in their work.  Two of the senior girls have been especially interested “in weaving and confided in the teacher that they hope they’ll get a loom as a graduation gift from their home folks.  The girls love to weave a skirt to wear on May Day and have a chance to participate in the colorful “Weaver’s Dance”.

Weaving class in hand-woven skirts. Pearl Taylor, Ernestine Vitatoe, Bess Taylor, Jolene Lucas, Gladys Carroll, Reba Blevins, Margaret Slusher, Betty Huff -- 1946. nace_1_022b.jpg

Weaving class in hand-woven skirts. Pearl Taylor, Ernestine Vitatoe, Bess Taylor, Jolene Lucas, Gladys Carroll, Reba Blevins, Margaret Slusher, Betty Huff — 1946. nace_1_022b.jpg

"Glorishears" Morris Dance -- 1946. Shirley Holbrook and Delores Scott in lead. nace_1_021a.jpg

“Glorishears” Morris Dance — 1946. Shirley Holbrook and Delores Scott in lead.  nace_1_021a.jpg

Weaving does go on in some of the homes (as I mentioned), i.e., sample curtain [cur. ?] material [mat.?] woven by one of our neighbors. [The] Swedish pattern sells for $1.95 a yard.  I am reminded at this point of the way I happened to get one of my coverlets when I was at Pine Mountain in the fall of 1928.  In the office welcoming children as they arrived — In came last years student with a younger sister by hand and [a] coverlet over [the] other arm.  “I brung —–[?] “


Della Hayes weaving at Pine Mountain. Probably in Old Log, c. 1940s.

That coverlet was definitely a home product, brown from walnut hulls and dusty rose from madder.  Just as lovely today as when I bought it and I love to think that little Della [Hayes] — now a successful nurse — had her start at Pine Mountain because her sister had learned to weave at our school and had a loom at home.

P1050096Walnut and madder dye weaving

[page 5] I am sure you are familiar with Dr. Allen Eaton’s book, Handmade in the Southern Mountains. [this should read, Allen H. Eaton. Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands], One of the colored illustrations shows a striped blanket that we call Pine Mountain Blanket #16. I have one of these made by a mountain woman who was taught to weave by our teacher — wool from her own sheep and vegetable dye used. This is the type of blanket we always use for our prophets in the Nativity Play.  You can see that the weaving even goes into something special like that.  *[Note: This same Pine Mountain Blanket #16 was used as a cover for the plaque which was un-veiled at the Pine Mountain Settlement School Centennial celebration in August 2013.]


I say something special, Christmas at Pine Mountain is an occasion that one never forgets.  With our sacrificial meals for our Charity Fund now we’ll have something to share with others; with our appealing drama of lovely carols in [Laurel House] dining room while decorated with garlands, wreaths, and tree; with our gay Mummer’s Play ; with our charming Nativity Play in the Chapel, it is an occasion for happy activity — [a] genuine pleasure.  It has its effect upon children “Love and joy …” —“Hit’s peacefulest –” [Motter probably describes the change from the earlier celebrations of Christmas that were known for their liquor and guns.]

Boy's House Wassailers and Lords and Ladies -- 1946. [Good King Wenselaus ?] [In Laurel House] nace_1_025b.jpg

Boy’s House Wassailers and Lords and Ladies — 1946. [Good King Wenselaus ?] [In Laurel House] nace_1_025b.jpg

Your share in our work is indeed heartwarming to the staff and the trustees.  May we ask for your continued interest so that we may not fail to make Uncle William’s dream come true  — I don’t want hit to be for this local. only —-”  ——

*Swygert, Mrs. Luther M.  Heirlooms from Old Looms A Catalogue of Coverlets Owned By the Colonial Coverlet Guild of America and Its Members – R.R. Donnelley and Sons : 1940 (1955).


Through Pine Mountain’s efforts and the support of the broad-ranging Fireside Industries, a strong program of support for the Appalachian craft of weaving was developed and the practice was strongly revitalized in the 1930s and 40s. In many environments, during the 1930s and 1940s the idea of a “cottage industry” which is characterized by contracted work completed at home and then marketed through a central agency, was a developed and viable economic venture.  In the case of Pine Mountain, the idea was not new and was not exploited by the school so much for commercial reasons, but was incorporated into the educational program and into their primary goal of building “community.”

The idea of weaving at home was not unique to families in the Pine Mountain community but with Pine Mountain’s encouragement, it began to follow the model put forward by the Fireside Industries which flourished at centers such as Berea College, long a source of inspiration and support for the School’s weaving enterprises.

Pine Mountain’s interest was also shared by many other rural settlement schools in the region, particularly in the early settlements institutions in Western North Carolina.  What was unique at Pine Mountain was the early adoption of weaving and the measure of enthusiasm in the community for such work and the persistence of weaving as part of the educational program at the school.

Weaving has been an activity that has found a place at the School for over 100 years and more of its history. Through the enthusiasm of Katherine Pettit and her “kivers” and those like Margaret Motter, who followed her,  Pine Mountain has maintained it’s interest this this unique craft and in the long family traditions attached to weaving in the Central and Southern Appalachians. This long mountain family history led to the introduction of weaving and dying in the first decade of the school and maintained it through the years.

Katherine Pettit’s Dye Book written by Helen Wilmer Stone, a staff member at Pine Mountain, is a classic in the genre of vegetable dying of fiber. Under Katherine Pettit, Helen Wilmer Stone, Margaret Motter, Florence Daniels, Abbie Winch Christensen, Becky May Huff, and others, weaving and spinning, and the use of native plants for dyes later found a place in the curriculum of the Pine Mountain and other schools as a vocational tract.  When a more normalized curriculum was mandated by public instructions guidelines, weaving still remained as an elective at many of these schools, and often as an after-school program. Yet, in most schools and homes, weaving had gone away by the late 1940s.  Few instructors could be found to maintain the craft in schools other than arts and crafts schools and the maintenance f the equipment was high.

Unlike many regions of the Central and Southern Appalachians in the 1940s,  the Pine Mountain Valley had not fully abandoned weaving in some households.  In many homes in the mountains, and in the Pine Mountain region particularly, many families still maintained their old looms and many of the unique patterns continued their persistence through many generations of family weavers.  Some of the old patterns can still be found in mountain homes scratched out on rolled strips of cloth or on long scrolls of paper.  Like some ancient runes, these patterns are family treasures.



What Pine Mountain brought to the Fireside Industries or the “cottage industry” model, was a renewal or revival of the long-standing culture of eager mountain weavers.  Margaret Motter moved this enthusiasm along by carrying examples of weaving with her on almost every talk she gave outside the School.  Through Katherine Pettit’s early enthusiasm for collecting mountain “kivers” the attention to the beauty and skill of mountain weaving moved among the staff of the School like an aesthetic mantra.  Workers discovered in weaving sophisticated and beautiful local craftsmanship that utilized skill, intelligence, and tenacity — qualities that the community weavers had in abundance.  The education that occurred between the workers and the community was mutual — and it continues to be mutual today, even as the “community” of Pine Mountain has continued to expand outward to meet the demands of the industrial world and a more diverse public.


A short piece written by Freshman student Mattie Mae Adams in the February 1949 PINE CONE, the student newsletter, describes a weaving experience at the School.  1949 was the last year the boarding school was in operation.


On my entrance to Pine Mountain I had a choice between science and weaving. I took weaving.  At first I was afraid to weave. I was afraid I would make a mistake. It seemed hard for me to remember all of the names of the parts of the loom, and it was still harder to wind a bobbin. But it didn’t take me long as I have Miss Christensen for a teacher.

She started me off on a rug that she had already started herself. Afterward, I thought I wanted to make one for myself. Now we have started on our May Day skirts, which are very difficult, because I get my threads crossed and have to take them out. Then I have to re-wind a bobbin. The next thing I know I’m using the wrong treadles or mending a broken heddle.  Broken threads are another difficulty.  I have just mended a broken thread when I discover a mistake which has to be taken out. Then I usually take out two to that four.

Now all of these things don’t happen every day; but when one happens it seems as if they all happen at once. Even in spite of these hard tasks, I am glad I made the choice of weaving. 

Mattie Mae Adams, Freshman


Ccropped image of weaving held in the Katherine Pettit Collection in the Bodley-Bullock House, Bodley-Bullock House. Sorority House for Transylvania College. 200 Market St, Lexington, KY 40507.














Pine Mountain Settlement School

dancing in the cabbage patch 2 copy

Dancing in the Cabbage Patch is a personal reflection on the history of one of the oldest continuing rural settlement schools in America.


Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain Settlement School is located in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in Harlan County.  It is one of several rural settlement schools influenced by the urban settlement movement but distinct from that movement by its agrarian emphasis. Rural settlement schools were born in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. The push into the mountains of “Community work,” following the Reconstruction era, brought many ideas and workers from the urban settlement houses and centers to the largely decentralized agrarian communities of the Southern Appalachians where the Settlement Movement was melded into a new framework.  In remote communities in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia a robust rural settlement school movement took hold at the beginning of the twentieth-century.

A region of ridges and hollows, the long chain of mountains that comprise the Southern Appalachians are rich in natural resources but during the early twentieth-century the people who had settled the area were believed to be outside the capacity to join the accelerating industrial development of the country’s major cities.  The reasons were many and were not, necessarily unique to Eastern Kentucky.  In particular, the people lagged in their development in many areas; social, economic, educational, and industrial skills, compounded by their isolation. One of the objectives of the rural settlement movement in the Appalachians was to provide industrial training for people tucked away in the most remote corners of the region and to prepare them for the looming impact of industrialization on their lives.

Modeled on the urban settlement movement models but modified for their rural setting, the early rural settlements movement programs were initiated to ease the rural communities into the mainstream of America’s burgeoning industrialization by integrating the familiar into the growing changes.  But,  paradoxically, the rural movement also sought to retain and promote some cultural artifacts of their isolation. By adopting elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the so-called Country Life Movement, the rural settlement work focused on nurturing pride in local folk arts, music and dance unique to the isolated region. While honoring the unique regional arts, crafts, music and dance, that built strength into the unique community, the rural settlement sought to educate and prepare the community the growing industrial tsunami that was overtaking the region. The people knew how to build strength of community through their heritage, but they were less able to adjust to the rapid and rapacious cultures that accompanied lumbering and mining.

The workers who came to Central Kentucky to found the early settlement institutions fervently believed that an amalgam of local cultural wealth and improved education and medical assistance could insulate the people and the region and enable their navigation of the perceived social ills of rapacious and rapid mechanization.

Workers in the early settlement schools danced an uneven course between their familiar cultural patterns and those they perceived to need “discovery” again within their remote communities.  Many of the settlement workers imposed their own adaptation of a perceived culture that only needed to be “awakened.” The community danced around the unfamiliar adaptations while gleaning from the mixed educational support and the reinvigoration of old skill sets and in the process, a new sense of self began to evolve for both natives and settlement workers.

For example, the communities around the rural settlements of eastern Kentucky danced the “Running Set”, a fast-paced, energetic dance that generally had only the human voice to call out the moves.  It was a dance that echoed their lives.  Recreation had to be experienced quickly, guided by visual and auditory direction, for the patterns that shaped the lives of the mountain people were the demanding and changing seasonal life of subsistence farming. The “folk dance” of the new workers looked back to the more elegant English Country Dance style. It was a unique blend and not as disparate as it might appear.  When the English Country Dance authority, Cecil Sharp, came to Pine Mountain Settlement in the 1930s he helped to cement the two cultural styles.

Further, many of the settlement workers who came to the isolated valleys and hollows of Eastern Kentucky promoted the region’s  isolation as a salvation from the evils of the industrial world by adopting a modified Arts and Craft Movement ethos. Others found a better balance through the introduction of many of the tenants of Progressive education, particularly through programs of civic-minded industrial training combined with a standard educational framework.  Pine Mountain Settlement School in its early years, chartered a course somewhere between the two educational directions.

In the region, many social service agencies, as well as church and charitable organizations developed institutions modeled on the early urban settlement movement instituted in Chicago by Jane Addams and in other major urban areas by idealistic leaders. The leaders in the urban centers proposed to guide the people out of poverty and illiteracy by modeling a progressive presence in the community. Of the rural settlement institutions Pine Mountain Settlement School, a uniquely non-sectarian institution introduced a powerful Settlement Movement model that adapted to the rural environment. What evolved in the formative years was a rich educational model that married traditional education to local culture and added a strong industrial training component. Further, they added health and social services for the community, reaching out to more than just students but also to their families.  Today, that model still has its proponents and it is still a model that changes lives and is remarkably fresh. In the urban centers the settlement house movement was slowly diluted when the workers began to remove themselves from the communities of interest and established “centers” of service staffed by professionals who were no longer integrated, or living within the community of service. When compared to contemporary trends in education and social services whether urban or rural, the de-centralized model may be argued to be an isolating move for mutual education and a step backward in direct service.

The following topical essays contained in “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch,” reflect a personal reflection and a journey centered on the experience of being born and raised in the rural settlement school environment of Pine Mountain. It has not been written to reflect the views of the current institution but to trace through a personal reflection —  a lived experience of some of the highlights of Pine Mountain Settlement School during its 100-year history.

It has been said that when one has had such a profound maturation and is wrenched from that life, that it allows for a second sight. To be able to return to a place and to see it for the first time is a rare gift but a tenuous one filled with some doubt in any a perceived clarity of vision. This essay explores that personal ambiguity.


Perhaps overly romantic and nostalgic, the words “pastoral” and “bucolic” have often been used to describe Pine Mountain Settlement School. These words are most frequently used in the description of farmlands. Yet, in eastern Kentucky, generally, the farmland has often been described in disparaging terms, particularly by visitors to the region. “Subsistence farming,” poverty, “hillbilly hollars,” outliers, “outsiders,” etc..  Why these disparaging remarks? Why this eagerness to draw a difference, especially between rural and urban? The answers are complex.

The general perception of the land’s importance to what comprises Pine Mountain Settlement School, in fact, stands in direct contrast to the observations of many of those who have written about Eastern Kentucky. The descriptive adjectives used for many Appalachian farms and the surrounding mountains — and,  sometimes its people, often reads  “ravaged,” “uncultivated,” “disorganized,” “unkempt,” “scraggly,” “impoverished,” dirty, and other pejoratives that disparage any perception of beauty. Why is Pine Mountain “bucolic”, “lovely”, “peaceful”, “Shangri-La”, “natures majestic garden” and on and on? Again, the perceptions and the reflections are complex.

Farming practice has always been central to the life of the Pine Mountain Settlement School and its surrounding communities.  Planning for the school was built upon the desire of William Creech to teach good farming practice as well as to educate students in an educational curriculum consistent with that offered to youth in other parts of the country. He saw these two objectives as joined in a reverence for the land and its people and progressive in its experimentation.

Farming at the School has a very long history and one that has been integrated into almost every program of the institution for over one-hundred years. While Pine Mountain Settlement has never been strictly a “farm school” it has had a long association with the production of food that nurtures body and mind.  It also draws from “farm schools” developed around the same time as Pine Mountain. Nature and nurture have always found a partnership in these schools and were and are regularly celebrated in a variety of ways.


Like farming, the celebratory events at the School play an integral role in the history of the institution. Like the cycles of agricultural life, community celebrations help to establish the ebb and flow of life at the School and map it to the rhythm of the community. Many annual events such as Community Fair Day, celebrated in the Fall and harvest time; the Nativity Play at Christmas marked the reflection afforded by winters seclusion;  May Day in the Spring and the school’s former annual Spring Dogwood Breakfast celebrated the rebirth of living things and the nurture they promise. All have their origins in a celebration of the seasons and are generally accompanied by food or by displays of the produce from local farming.

The celebrations, pageants, and plays are remembered fondly by many students who attended the school and many of these memories were or are associated with agrarian practice or with a foodway, or agricultural rhythm. These events were also linked to long traditions that the workers romanticized and tied to Anglo-Saxon heritage, pioneer life, the Pilgrims, self-sufficiency, and a myriad of other partial truths.


May Day c 1920 – young children dressed in greenery for the celebration.

Whether performed for entertainment, for educating, or for the celebration of special people, event, time or place, the festivities at the School provided an opportunity for a connection with both the past and the future of the institution.

In the surrounding community past and present are equally revered but future rarely intruded into daily community conversation. Like dreams, the future was held close like some shining city on the hill or in the hereafter. Today, the community of promise seems even further away in conversation and practice as celebrations have steadily declined and as economic despair has increased.  The tightly woven fabric of the community began to tatter in the tangled ideals of the War on Poverty and in the reality of an economy that failed to diversify.

Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Robin Hood’s adventures, the Mikado, HMS Pinafore, the Cooperative Store skits, the Kanagawa play, Halloween, the carrying in of the Yule Log, the simple dialog of the Nativity Play — all gave early students the opportunity to don costumes and assume other personalities and to imagine themselves in other lives, other countries and other times. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace …” was found written on the wall of a humble mountain cabin.  It is a quote from the Bible, but it is also a well-known quote from the annual Nativity Play at Pine Mountain.

The early institutional celebrations allowed the staff workers to gather and renew their friendships on the campus and were celebrations that brought the school and the community together in cooperative celebration. What was carried away would be or could be life-changing.


The PHOTOGRAPHS from Pine Mountain document and celebrate many of the events at the School and the community while also capturing some of the most compelling images of institutional and community life in early rural Appalachia.  There are intimate portraits of Appalachian families at work and at play. There are scrapbooks by settlement school workers who gathered their visual memories and left them for the school to ponder their aggregation.  There are official collections of promotional photographs that sought to convey a particular image of the institution for calendars and brochures.  There are many overlaps and duplicates in the images across the many collections.  Sharing was always part of Pine Mountain’s culture. And, there are many months and years of lives in the photographs and mementos gathered in the scrapbooks, travelogues, and albums. The photographic images also capture the essence of the School as it grew and changed.

Music and dance, folk craft, mountain vernacular architecture, clothing, farm techniques and implements, food and food preparation, and many more themes may be found in the photographs and publications that were created over the life of the School and shared within the institution and with the communities of interest  Some of the most compelling images are those of the workers and students as they danced … and danced … and danced some more.pmss001_bas098

As the educational programs changed and grew and as the current Environmental Education programs evolved, the photographs and publications about the School capture the shift in the scale of farming, the use of the land and the growing awareness of the preciousness of the natural environment.  In today’s technological world this preciousness is even more compelling. The photographs and publications are celebrations of the people as well as of the land.  Together, the land and the people provide what many call a “sense of place.”


Perhaps nowhere is the sense of place captured better, or traced more intimately than in the transition of food-ways at the institution.  Change may be observed in the narratives and the photographs when annual events were either down-sized or were, in some cases eliminated. The relationship between the land and the foodways of the people who shared the land may be clearly seen as food, events, and farming intermingle and wax and wane.

For example, May Day and Dogwood Breakfast, two spring-time events were eliminated from the annual calendar shortly after the closure of the boarding school in 1949.  After the closure of the boarding school the intimate community of the School began to fragment, as workers lived off-site, the tasks of the school became overwhelming with no students to crew the many jobs. The focus on agriculture declined. The many changes at the School reflected a shift in the general sense of community in both the central institution and also in the community at large. The numbers of staff at the school declined over the years and many workers came for short stays or had little knowledge or connection to the historical campus. Foodways changed as the more processed food was easily attainable and preparation of locally harvested food diminished.

In the community, the events in nearby urban centers such as Harlan, or other urban centers such as Hazard or Cumberland, or even distant Lexington, began to pull families away from the immediate community life of the Pine Mountain Valley. kingman_092b The isolation of the region was slowly but dramatically altered by roads, particularly THE ROAD, Laden Trail, across Pine Mountain, which the Settlement School sponsored with Harlan County and the State of Kentucky. Though the road was slow in its construction, it radically changed live in the isolated valley. New roads opened the region for an ebb and flow of new cultural ideas and life-styles.

Soldiers returning from WWI  and especially WWII, shifted the cultural climate even more. Film, television, and today multimedia and digital media and other entertainment and communication tools continue to contribute to the fracture of community cohesion. The reliance on immediate communication can now be acutely felt at the school as visitors roam the campus for “hot-spots” to keep in cell-phone contact with family, friends or business. Visitors often feel both in place and out-of-place … caught between past and future in the remote location.


With the full implementation of the Environmental Education program in the 1970s, older programs at the school shifted from a focus on hands-on agricultural management of the campus land resources to an educational understanding of the broader concepts of the total natural environment and its cooperative management.  The farm became garden and the devolution to subsistence farming could not be missed on those who remembered the farming years. Quickly, the new environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s aligned with K-12 educational science standards found in the public school curricula and environmental education programs began to evolve. Pine Mountain School quickly realized the importance of its history and geography to the new environmental movement and began to give formal shape to its educational program..  Pine Mountain saw its opportunity to be a leader in the field of environmental education and was, in fact,  one of the first such programs in the state of Kentucky.  Today, the environmental programs at the School remain a model of environmental education while keeping pace with the growing national educational environmentalism and awareness. Global warming and other man-made environmental crises are giving special urgency to environmental education and not just to K-12. Throughout the world there is a growing struggle to find ways to address the complexity of environmental education for everyone.

Yet, Pine Mountain will always carry an environmental lesson. Whether “jitterbugging” in the local streams, or waltzing across a ridge-top, or learning to tango with a rapid thunderstorm, the dances with nature at the School have proven to be endless and sustainable and educational.


PHOTOGRAPHS have always been important to the School. What the photographers at Pine Mountain selected to photograph documents the change in the community as well as larger cultural shifts. While the photographs capture the essence of the lifestyle of the age, they also suggest the personal interest of the photographers as they experienced their cultural context. The visual record, the photograph and certainly the individuals in the photograph, capture what the local culture saw as it looked back at the many cameras and photographers. The tensions are almost palpable in the distance between camera, subject, and photographer.  Both palpable and frozen, the many images taken at the school and in the community graphically capture  photographer, image and subject as they instantly interact —  their gazes joined, the landscape stilled and quiet, a thousand questions unanswered — just as it is in one blink of life.


Visitors from Viet Nam in the classroom at PMSS, 1950s. [pmss_0037]

Photographs are remarkable vehicles for primary source information and their visual content opens for the teacher, researcher, and the viewer a variety of windows into other times and other lives. The potential contributions of Pine Mountain Settlement School’s photographs to Appalachian cultural research are extraordinary. One has to wonder if the young boy in the photograph above might have ended up in Viet Nam in the 1970s and what would he remember of this early encounter?

Friends & Neighbors - VI-51 -

Community family near PMSS. [Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 ]

Mary Rogers, wife of Burton Rogers, one of the Directors of the School, wrote in the “Preface” of the Pine Mountain Album – 1913-1963, prepared for the 50th anniversary of the School:

“Most of us are so busy trying to do what must be done today, and planning ahead to what needs to be done tomorrow that we have little time to look back to the things which happened yesterday. But we are celebrating an anniversary, the 50th anniversary of Pine Mountain Settlement School, and so we will turn to the past — get out the old album and look at the pictures.

It’s a funny thing, looking at old pictures. They don’t show the things that matter most: Uncle William’s craving that his people might grow better; Miss Pettit’s dedication to bringing help to the mountains; Mrs. Zande’s high standards and loving understanding of people; Mr. Morris’ dynamic energy; the different gifts brought by hundreds of workers over the years.

Nor do they show the important things in a student’s life: the moments of courage; the hours of service; the growth in understanding; the vivid enjoyment of life; the deepening love for a place and its people; and sometimes the realization that the source of all things is the Love of God. All the same, let’s look at the pictures, some faded and old-fashioned, but taken because someone wanted to “keep” something from the past, and let us try and read into them the things for which they stand.”
                                                                                            Mary Rogers, 1963

Another fifty years and more have now been added to the visual history of the School. Together, the photographs, the documents, the scrapbooks, the books and the vast natural and built environment of the school form a rich educational environment and classroom that is unexcelled in the Central Appalachians.  In 2013 Pine Mountain celebrated its 100th Anniversary. One-hundred years of “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch.”

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One might say that Pine Mountain was conceived among coverlets.  Weaving at Pine Mountain Settlement School certainly was encouraged by the re-discovery of the craft of coverlet weaving and the enthusiastic collecting of mountain weaving near the turn of the last century.  Katherine Pettit, founder of Pine Mountain Settlement School and earlier of Hindman Settlement School, was an avid collector of “kivers.”  Her interest in the exquisite craft of coverlet weaving kept her roaming the mountains in the early years of the twentieth century in search of new patterns and techniques.   It was the search for beautiful mountain “kivers” that kept Pettit journeying across the Eastern Kentucky region and eventually to the Pine Mountain valley in Harlan County, Kentucky.  There, in the long valley on the north side of the Pine Mountain she established one of the most unique of the Appalachian settlement schools.


Neighbors in the Pine Mountain Valley with coverlet hanging behind mother, two children and dog. c. 1920s.

Pettit often traveled from Hindman in Knott County, where she had established her first school in the early years of the twentieth century.  Even before the founding of Hindman, in 1901, Pettit was into her third summer season in the eastern Kentucky mountains at a location known as “Sassafrass.” She and her adventuresome colleagues had already journeyed to many of the remote valleys and hollows of nearby Harlan, Perry and Letcher counties where she frequently came into contact with mountain weavers.  She soon began to search for coverlets to purchase and also found her interest in the craft gave her a sound introduction to many mountain families. While looking for homespun coverlets she soon discovered more than the coverlet.  She discovered the weavers and their humble but rich skills, their ancient culture, and their stoic resourcefulness. Theirs was a life-style that she would soon come to cherish, partially adopt and commit to “raising up.”


A Pine Mountain neighbor with her spinning wheel. c. 1915.

In Harlan county she  found the distance from the rapidly industrializing world she desired and she expanded on her Hindman experiences.  She  rapidly reached out to her many contacts and built a rustic home and a school dedicated to serving the people of the remote Pine Mountain valley and nearby hollows. She did not, however become a recluse.

When she came to Pine Mountain in 1913, and with the help of William Creech and the families living in the valley, Pettit established a school founded on the principles of the more urban settlement houses found in Chicago, New York, Boston and other locations. She recruited educators and workers from those early urban settlement schools and women’s colleges and sowed the seeds of a progressive educational program.  What she created was a settlement school that adopted a unique response the urban settlement house ethos.  While weaving in the urban settlements had often depended on teaching weaving that was modeled on practices found in the Arts and Craft’s Movement and in Scandinavian models, Pettit’s models were already established in the mountains of Kentucky and other areas of the Southern Appalachians.   Weaving for Pettit and for the Pine Mountain community was an integral part of a response to the legacy of many families and the demands of a rural environment that was still in a pioneering and subsistence mode.

Beating flax using a wooden flax beater. Ethel de Long [?] X_099_workers_2527l_mod.jpg

Farming was the other foundational principle she integrated into the school’s core mission. Weaving and farming go together well and well they served Pine Mountain for many years.  Pettit’s interest and promotion of weaving pre-dates the important work of Eliza Calver Hall and her 1912, A Book of Hand-Woven Coverlets.  No doubt Pettit was strongly influenced by Hall’s book, which she owned, and the work of the weaver Anna Ernberg who had assumed the position of superintendent of Fireside Industries at Berea College, Kentucky in 1911, but she was embedded in the idea of weaving and settlement-work much earlier and had early connections with women who would later shape mountain weaving into an industry.


Pettit made the Pine Mountain valley and the Settlement School her home and along with Ethel de Long, whom she had recruited away from Hindman Settlement School, she began to build the second of her schools in the region.  Pine Mountain soon became one of the most unique and viable of the Southern Appalachian rural settlement schools. In that school the sound of the batten, weaving away, has rarely ceased it’s tempo.


At Pine Mountain Pettit and her staff did not live in isolation but challenged the people of the region to look beyond the walls of mountains surrounding their valley, to the flood of ideas, economies, and beliefs that would prepare the people of the region for the inevitable changes coming to the mountains.  Following the turn of the century, industrialization was moving ever closer to the Pine Mountain Valley and Pettit recognized the need to develop a marketing strategy for the mountain crafts to bring money into the area.  Weaving was part of her plan at “raising-up” the mountain people and she set about finding looms, building looms and establishing weaving as part of the school program.

0050b P. Roettinger Album. “Swinging flax. Aunt Sal and Lizzie [Elisabeth Roettinger on right.]” [roe_017a.jpg]

Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain is now celebrating its 100th year of existence.  Katherine Pettit retired from the School in 1936 but the school archive contains numerous directives, letters, invectives, and suggestions that show her connected to the School until her death in 1938. The models of education, farming, health-care, and civic responsibility that Pettit and others at the school provided the people of this long valley, to Eastern Kentucky and to the state, promised a rich future while preserving the best of the earlier cultural legacy. Weaving at Pine Mountain has had a continuous association with the school since it’s founding and today it continues to inspire ideas and pride in it weavers.

The beautiful homespun coverlets discovered by Pettit on her mountain rambles became a visual passion for Pettit and for others who saw them.  It is impossible not to have a deep appreciation for the skill and artistry of the craft of weaving and for the women and men who wove the exquisite and complicated patterns found in Pettit’s collection of coverlets. The mountain coverlet in all its complexity and subtle colors has a deep and extended history in the lives of mountain families with a weft that stretches back to Ireland and to Scotland, to France and to England.   The coverlet is a visual testimony to the people’s deep intelligence, creativity, and manual skills,  Often described as “asleep”, “apart”, “lazy”, “dull”, or worse, the early mountain weavers produced some of the most elegant and complex and extensive repertoires of coverlets.  The Pine Mountain archive has long been the keeper of much of the history that documents the exquisite legacy of weaving in the Kentucky mountains.

From booklets that detail vegetable dying, such as the Katherine Pettit Dye Book, to implements that can convey the tactile activity of the weaver’s art, to correspondence related to the marketing of mountain craft by novel cooperatives such as Fireside Industries , to the intimate stories of times spent in homes where weaving was done,  — the archives at the School are rich in weaving lore.

Shortly before Katherine Pettit died she left some of her weaving collections to Pine Mountain Settlement School but donated the bulk of her collection in May of 1936 to the Bradford Club of Lexington, Kentucky.  Eventually, this large collection found its way into the holdings of Transylvania College by way of the historic home owned by the college, the Bodley-Bullock House, and under the care of the Junior League.

The Bullock’s were Pettit’s family. The home was obviously an active intellectual scene, filled with books and art, enjoyed by the patriarch, Waller O. Bullock, his wife, and children. Bullock, a physician and a sculptor, knew well the education of joining head and hand and heart, and no doubt passed that along to his children, one of whom was Clara, the mother of Katherine Pettit.  The home, located adjacent to one of Lexington’s most impressive parks, Gratz Park,  is surrounded by the homes of Lexington’s creative and intellectual elite, such as Henry Clay, the early entrepreneur William Gratz,  John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies,  and others.


Many of Pettit’s coverlets and textile fragments in both the Pine Mountain collection and the Bodley-Bullock collection have, in some cases,  histories that go back some 200 years.  Some have stories, and others have their provenance waiting to be discovered by researchers.  But, all have a visual presence that cannot be denied and names that suggest ties with life in the family, region, and country as well as hints of ancient balladry and dance in the British Isles.

For example a beautiful peach and vanilla coverlet with a pattern called “Kentucky Winding Blades” in the Lexington collection, has the following attached note:

“This coverlet was made by Granny Stallard who was 110 years old when she died about 20 years ago [note:1936].  She sent this with a number of other coverlets and blankets with her great, great grandchildren to the Pine Mountain Settlement School to pay for their tuition.  she said that most of these were made when she was in the “rise of her bloom” — sixteen years old.”

Another textile, un-named, a very worn and modified blanket/shawl has a badly damaged note that reads:

“This shawl was willed to … Uncle Enoch Combs, when he was a young man, not quite 20. [When he was] starting [for war] his sweetheart Nancy St … him and gave him this shawl [to ….] him.  She told him to f… [when the] war was over.  This he [did ?] … Uncle Enoch wore the shawl [until he was] an old man with long white [hair].”

Even this fragmented note tells of a very precious warp that is woven with the weft of memories; love, and loss and return and loss, again.  So many of the weavings of Appalachia have these stories. They speak to what Eliza Calvert Hall calls the “Time Spirit” in her important 1912 book, The Book of Handwoven Coverlets. [1]  The “time spirit” is found in that object that cannot be handled without recalling the life of the past. Many of the names of the coverlets speak to the past times.  Stories, such as “Young Lady’s Perplexiuty,” [sic] “Lonley Heart,” “Youth and Beauty,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “Lasting Beauty.”   “… the rise of her bloom”  is a mountain colloquial reference to the early adolescence of girls as it was often in early these years that girls began to learn to weave and to assemble their house-hold textiles for later marriage and their own homes.  It can quickly be deduced that coverlets were often seen as the dowry of young girls.  Certainly, they were the offerings that she carried into her marriage in her “Hope Chest”.

Eliza Calvert Hall has pointed out that the naming of coverlet patterns is a very imprecise practice. She says, ” … a design may have one name in North Carolina another in Kentucky, another in Tennessee, and still another in Virginia as if it were a criminal fleeing from justice.”

Enoch Combs [the same as mentioned earlier] and his wife Mary were a childless couple who lived at Sassafras, near Hindman.  They were the hosts for a group of young women who came to the third and final summer camp in Knott county prior to the establishment of Hindman Settlement by Pettit and Stone.  Katherine Pettit, of Lexington; Mary E. McCartney, of Louisville;  May Stone, of Louisville;  and Rae M. McNab, also of Louisville, traveled into what had become familiar, but still, very rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky.   Their summer school at Sassafrass in 1901 was the last of a series of summer camps that were established to serve the literacy-poor hollows in Knott County. The success of these summer camps and the enthusiasm of Pettit and Stone led them to the foundation of a permanent school at Hindman in the following year.

The life of the Combs family and their skills at weaving were captured in a small album of photographs belonging to Katherine Pettit which she titled “Sassafrass 1901.”   In the small and fragile album, held in the Pine Mountain archive, members of the family and a young lady who was living with the Combs’ are shown shearing their sheep, washing the wool, drying the wool, picking and carding, dying the “hanks”,  and finally spinning the wool to be placed on spindles.  The images freeze this valuable pioneer process in time and allow the viewer to understand the many complex tasks associated with the manufacture of textile in the Appalachians.


The processing of wool is just one of the complex tasks involved with Appalachian textiles.  There is another even more arduous series of processes associated with the flax plant. When Katherine Pettit came to Pine Mountain she met “Aunt” Sally Creech. In Aunt Sal she had one of the finest weavers and spinners as an accomplice in her search for “kivers.”  But, she also had a consummate teacher.  Aunt Sal was the wife of William Creech, the farmer whose vision of a school caught the imagination of Pettit and whose land formed the basis of the physical site for the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Uncle William grew flax and harvested it to process linen thread.  Katherine Pettit provided him with the seeds.

“‘Aunt Sal Creech – retting flax.” [nace_II_album_059.jpg]

The elaborate process of turning flax into thread was a process learned by many of the Appalachian families whose origins reached back to an Ulster-Scot ancestry. Many of the people of the Southern Appalachians had this ancestry. Ulster, in Ireland, was a center of linen production in Europe and many of the immigrants brought their knowledge of flax farming and linen creation to the New World. It continued as a viable occupation for the many Scots-Irish-English-French-Cherokee-German and African American families who lived deep in the Appalachian mountains.

At Pine Mountain, farmers who maintained subsistance farms in the small valley and hollows and on the steep slopes near the School sometimes found ways to extend their incomes by engaging in flax farming.  Flax was one of the crops that could be turned to income.  But, by the turn of the twentieth-century few of these resourceful farmers remained. Pine Mountain was fortunate that some of these flax farmers had passed down their knowledge in the family and there were families that were still growing and weaving with flax.

William Creech supervising the pulling of flax. [floral_III_020_mod.jpg]

When Pettit arrived in the valley she met families with names like Creech, Boggs, Turner, Couch, Combs, Coots, Day, Hall, and more, suggesting that the population was heavily indebted to England in its origins. A study of family names could shed light on possible English or Irish or Scotch origins of textile practice, but unlike tracing ballads or dances, or pageants, the trail for textile arts is not well developed. English families migrated to all areas of the British Isles but it is well-known that many Scots migrated to Ulster where they took up the practice of flax farming and production.  However the practice arrived in the Appalachians, the production of linen thread, an enormously labor intensive and complex process was passed along to Uncle William and Aunt Sal.  They knew the processes but the depth of their knowledge is difficult to determine.  Just how their processes compared to European practice invites further study.

Certainly Uncle William saw an opportunity to pursue his farming interests and to combine this with the practice of weaving, an art his wife Sally knew well.  Labor in the nearby school was available to him but he also had a sincere desire to improve the production of farmland, to educate, generally, and he, like Aunt Sal, was a consummate teacher.  It is also clear that he shared these interests in flax farming with Katherine Pettit.

The raising of flax and its processing for the weaving of linen cloth is another long weaving story. It is evident, however, that farming and weaving and education all make good partners. Whether, wool, flax, or cotton, “Summer Weave”, “Snail’s Trail,” or “Virgil”, or “Longfellow”, the threads come together.  It is true that the partnership of farming and weaving can be found repeated throughout the world, but the patterns derived from those partnerships are as diverse as the cultures that created them. Pine Mountain’s contributions to a weaving history are many and the contributions of Appalachia have their roots firmly planted in the long histories the earliest families brought to the region whether European, African, American Indian, or South American, or other cultures. There is strong evidence of cultural mixing in both practice and patterns and the research field waits for those who want a rich research project.



For a schedule of events at the school , see: