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Weaving a better life: Carter County man hopes to preserve textile tradition

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

Anthony Carter tried his hands at several different programs with the Appalachian Artisan Center (AAC) before he discovered weaving. Sometimes life, and weaving, are like that, he explained, you make false starts and then have to back them out and start again. 

He started with the luthiery workshop and learned to make dulcimers and ukuleles, and while he enjoyed the woodworking, he said, “it didn’t really catch with me.” 

The same was true of ceramics. But when he discovered weaving, he knew he was onto something that worked for him. 

“The patterns in it is what caught my attention,” explained Carter, who grew up on Wilson Creek. “The patterns caught my eye.”

Intrigued by the samples he was seeing, Carter made a simple lap loom and started working on scarves. But he was hungry for more. Luckily, he was in the right place to get that, and the AAC was able to get him an apprenticeship with an established weaver, Bob Young, and access to a larger and better loom.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for Carter, who wants to learn the traditions, and Young, who wants to teach them so they can be preserved. But none of it would have been possible if Carter hadn’t made a conscious choice at one point to find a way to build a better life. 

He came to the AAC through their Culture of Recovery project, which partners the Artisan Center with substance abuse recovery programs, like Hickory Hill. That’s where Carter was in rehab, going through a 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program. 

The Culture of Recovery project, he explained, has allowed him a way to tie art to those skills learned in his 12 step program. And weaving, in particular, allows him to clear his mind in a way those other arts he tried did not. 

“It’s like a coping mechanism,” Carter said. “Doing the weaving kind of breaks reality… Concentrating on patterns helps get my mind clear. It’s very therapeutic.”

AAC director Yoko Nogami said that is part of the point. 

“The recovery program includes working really hard on (the 12) steps and self-evaluation,” she said. “I think the success comes from clients having the time to come work on something that is a healing engagement.”

Carter elaborated by explaining that doing something he could be proud of was part of that healing engagement for him.

“It’s something that’s very important (to the process),” he said. “You get to see it come together and say, ‘I did that.’”

Carter, who says he’d like to make weaving his vocation and eventually teach others, and Nogami both expressed their gratitude to Young as a mentor as well.

Nogami says that is where Carter and the Center are, “really fortunate to have Bob here.”

Young, who was trained at the Hindman Settlement School, is a retired music teacher. 

“But I’ve been a weaver most of my life,” Young said. He started weaving with his grandmother, and while he was working his first job his mother and father gave him his first homemade weaving loom. This is the loom that has now been donated to the AAC for the weaving apprenticeship, which was created specifically to meet Carter’s interest. 

While Carter is excited to learn, Young is excited to teach. He said it was important to him to “preserve these fireside industries,” in the way the Hindman Settlement School did in its day. 

“While we’re at it we can make functional things that are also quite lovely,” he added. 

He said Carter, “caught (his) eye,” because he was, “always looking for someone to carry on (those traditions).”

“This is a bright spot for me, to have Anthony (preserve these traditions.),” Young said of Carter. “Anthony has given me a new reason to do this.”

For his part, Carter said he was “tickled to death” to get to work with his new mentor, a feeling that Young said was mutual. 

“It’s good to see someone interested in preserving this. It’s what spurred me into doing this (program). I’d stand on my head and whistle for someone like him,” Young said. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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