Lucy Morgan, Founder of the Penland School

Penland founder Lucy Morgan instructs a weaver in the 1930s. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Penland founder Lucy Morgan instructs a weaver in the 1930s.
Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

On September 20, 1889, Lucy Calista Morgan was born in Franklin in western North Carolina. After graduating from what is now Central Michigan University in 1915, she taught school and worked for the Children’s Bureau in Illinois. Morgan returned to North Carolina in 1920 to teach at the Appalachian School in Penland. During winter break in 1923, she accompanied a former student to Berea College in Kentucky, where she learned to weave.

Inspired by the Berea community cottage weaving industry, Morgan returned to Penland with a loom and a Craft Revival mission to “…bring about a revival of hand-weaving…[and] provide our neighbor mothers with a means of adding to their generally meager incomes without having to leave their homes….” She had to convince the Episcopal Bishop responsible for the Appalachian School to support a weaving program, convince the women of the region to participate, and find a market for their creations. By 1928 the Penland Weavers and Potters was a destination welcoming visitors. Lucy Morgan established the Penland School of Handicrafts in 1929.

Known as “Miss Lucy,” Morgan promoted North Carolina crafts to the National Park Service, at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, at the 1934 International Exhibition of Folk Art in Switzerland, and to visitors from throughout the world. She published a memoir Gift From the Hills in 1958, documenting the social value of crafts in strengthening community. Morgan retired to Jackson County in 1962 and continued to visit Penland until her death in 1981.

Her legacy continues as North Carolina communities identify authentic cultural traditions as a resource for arts-based economic development. The Penland School of Crafts has grown to be the premier art craft school in the country.

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