Our fifth reader question about Ocracoke is:
"I'm wondering when Ocracoke became a hub of sorts for Fine Arts Craftsmanship? It must be a far stretch from its earlier days when mere survival would have been the name of the game. Were there any fine artists or craftsman in the early days? How about in that Howard family?"
Ocracoke has always had a number of fine craftsmen, but not exactly like we have today. Traditionally, the handcrafts associated with the island were related to everyday life. These included house carpentry, boat building, quilting, sewing, and decoy carving. These, in turn, often spawned related crafts such as furniture making and cabinetry, model boat building, and decorative bird carving.
My grandfather and father, for example, were part-time boat builders. My father also was an excellent craftsman. He has made beautiful ship's wheels, platform rockers, and other furniture. He also occasionally made rope boat fenders and did other knot-work, as did many of the older men. Like most island women, my grandmother sewed quilts. My Aunt Tressie make quite a few slat bonnets which were used to keep the sun at bay while gardening or otherwise working outdoors.
Music was also an important part of Ocracoke's social life. Fiddlers, quitarists, banjo players, and triangle players turned out for the weekly square dances, or just sat on front porches or in parlors entertaining family and friends.
With its spectacular natural beauty and picturesque village, Ocracoke has, not surprisingly, been a favorite of artists for many decades. Interestingly, Ocracoke had a small "artists' colony" that flourished for a couple of summers in the late 1930's. This is a fascinating, but little-known, story that I will address in a future monthly newsletter.
However, I think it's fair to say that the early 1970's probably ushered in the current proliferation of artists and craftsmen who have come to Ocracoke to open shops and studios. Today we have woodworkers, fine artists, musicians, glass workers, jewelers, blacksmiths, carvers, and other craftsmen living and working on the island.
It all makes for a wonderfully creative environment. Thanks for asking.