Virtually every area of the South harbors a potter, weaver, toy maker, wood-carver, boatbuilder, calligrapher, ornamental blacksmith, sign painter, or seamstress who has maintained his or her craft in the face of nearly total indifference by the outside world. It is true, certainly, that many southern craftworkers have discarded quilt making, coverlet weaving, and pottery turning as unpleasant reminders of their humble origins. For others, the crafts remain a beloved preoccupation that, like family reunions and music festivals, have grown to symbolize an important component of regional and ethnic identity.
There are few generalizations that can be made about contemporary southern craftworkers as a group. Some are articulate about their work while others are inexpressive. Some practice crafts originally restricted to only one sex and passed from parent to child through an informal apprenticeship while others have not been so constrained. Many find monetary benefit in what they do; a few such as the solitary carver or painter work to some inner purpose largely devoid (until the coming of the folk art collector) of remunerative value. While some folk craftworkers employ modern labor and timesaving techniques, in every case they blend these with the preindustrial technologies of earlier generations. Such technologies, as well as the forms of the objects themselves, are the product of family and regional folk traditions.
The craft component at the 1981 Festival had three subdivisions:
1) a demonstration area where craftworkers were explaining their work; traditional Southeastern music - played, in part, on instruments made by the demonstrators - was also featured;
2) an exhibition of carefully-selected items commissioned specifically for the Festival and reminiscent of forms and styles made by the craftworkers' forebears; these objects were later sold at auction;
3) a general sales tent, planned with the Smithsonian Museum Shops, where an array of traditional crafts made for the Festival were on sale daily.
Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, in commenting on a previous Festival, noted: "The possibility of using a museum that is essentially a historical documentary museum as a theatre of live performance where people actually show that the objects in the cases were made by human hands, and are still being made, practiced on, worked with, is a very valuable asset for our role as a preserver and conservator of living cultural forms." Indeed, many of the objects crafted, exhibited, and sold at the 1981 Festival were very similar to items on view in the Museum. In fact, some of the objects in the permanent collections were purchased from Festival craftworkers in the late 1960s.