by Fran Watson
Gatlinburg, Tennessee once was a quiet little town sporting one motel with rooms overlooking a rushing mountain stream and one restaurant. At least, it was on my first trip there. Several years later, I revisited it to find a commercial nightmare had descended upon it , its main street, and side two-lane roads lined with restaurants and tourist shops. Fast food reigned and anything kitsch was offered at exorbitant prices.
As a gateway to the beautiful Smoky Mountains, and often considered more of a destination than the mountains themselves, the little community had become a boom town of tourism, where “art” existed only in the form of a Thomas Kinkaid outlet. It had also become famous for its traffic snarls, which continue today in spite of constant efforts to improve matters.
This improbable institution happens to be the location of one of my favorite destinations; Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. It’s built on the side of a mountain, its entrance just yards from traffic light #3 on the main thoroughfare. Arrowmont has proven both a vacation for me and my go-to spot to expand my knowledge of the crafts which so frequently appear as fine art today. Writing on media which I have never experienced is difficult, and even a smattering of knowledge about the processes involved provides a more sincere basis for journalism. Classes are taught by experienced, established artists and artisans from around the world. Each week offers different teachers, different subjects along with some of the best food in town and pleasant accommodations. The classes are 9 to 4 daily, and the studios are open until late at night for practical implementation of the lessons of the day.
However, no matter how often I talk to people who visit Gatlinburg regularly, hardly anyone knows of or has experienced Arrowmont. A shame, since the main gallery posts excellent shows of quality art throughout the season and is open to the public. They specialize in professional, unique work, which has often featured artists I’ve admired in museum and gallery exhibits elsewhere. The current show features Artists in Residence, followed by works from the season’s instructors from May 17 through August 16, 2014.
Arrowmont has been around since 1912, originally intended to teach and support crafts for less fortunate mountain residents. Workshops, today’s basic thrust, were begun in 1945 and the beautiful Sandra J.Blain gallery was opened in 1970.
Walk around the campus if you’re in town. It’s beautifully maintained, and includes a pretty well-stocked supply store in the same building with the gallery.