The Regional Review

Volume III - No. 6

December, 1939

Arts and Crafts in Non-Urban Parks

By Jesse A. Reynolds,
State Supervisor of Recreation, Virginia,
Weston O. McDaniel,
District Recreation Supervisor,
Work Projects Administration

Hand Made Pottery,
Swift Creek, Virginia

Although arts and crafts as a distinct group of activities are an innovation on non-urban parks, they have formed a part of the nature study program almost from its inception. The nature student makes specimen cases, mounting boards, signs and markers, animal cages, bird houses, terraria, aquaria, and other such needed articles and facilities; he preserves and mounts specimens, and he sketches, paints and photographs natural objects and scenes. To a limited extent, then, he becomes both artist and craftsman. This has led to a gradual expansion of the nature study program into other fields of creative endeavor.

Many of the more popular present-day arts and crafts, such as pottery, wood carving, basketry, and sketching and painting landscapes and wildlife, all are associated closely with the environment provided by non-urban parks. They originated out of man's efforts to live and express himself more satisfactorily in primitive surroundings. Those who participate in such activities must become students of nature. They must know natural materials and be able to use them creatively, and they must study nature's designs at first hand. The realization of this close relationship of arts and crafts to the natural environment has been a factor in their introduction as features of the park activities program.

Probably the most important factor, however, has been the rapidly increasing popularity of arts and crafts as leisure time pursuits. The average person likes to use his hands and his mind creatively. He likes to make things. The modern industrial system no longer affords him an opportunity to satisfy this urge through his job. Even many of those engaged directly in productive enterprises are little more than robots. They certainly are not creative workmen. Their occupations have been reduced to such tasks as the use of one finger in stamping a number on an article. To compensate for these restrictions on creative endeavor, people have turned to arts and crafts during their spare time.

Park leaders have taken note of this expanding interest in ancient skills and have seen its possibilities in making their areas more popular and serviceable. A craft shop was established at Pokagon State Park in Indiana as "a happy solution to the problem of what to do after hiking, riding, fishing, or just loafing." Its establishment received an enthusiastic response from park visitors, particularly those who came to the area to spend a vacation. "Many of the men and women who frequent the craft shop are craftsmen, glad to have found a vacation place where they can ply their art," according to the author of an article in Outdoor Indiana (November 1937), organ of the State Department of Conservation.

Arts and crafts fill a most important place in the activities program at Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area which is being developed by the National Park Service near Richmond, Virginia. This program was started as an experiment in the promotion of a wider and more fruitful use of non-urban parks through leadership supplied by the Work Projects Administration. A craft shop and pottery kiln were made available in the early stages of the program and both proved immediately popular with a growing number of visitors. Assistance to participants in the gathering of native materials for craft uses and in the working out of designs, and instruction in workmanship have been regular services provided by the area program staff. [The illustrations which accompany this article show objects made and sketched by program participants.]

Rustic Table Lamp

In the beginning, efforts were confined to the better known arts and crafts, such as pottery, wood carving and free hand drawing of natural objects; but as interest and participation increased, the scope of the program was expanded until it now includes, among other things, the making of novel bird houses, ornaments from knots, twigs, and the bark of trees, baskets from honeysuckle vines, broom grass, pine needles, willows and white oak and hickory splits, pottery from clay, mountings for insects, leaves and flowers, rustic furniture and fixtures, stone mountings in rings and bracelets, and the burning, carving and painting of wood.

Unusual scenes are painted or sketched in oil, water color, crayon, charcoal and other media selected by the individuals who participate. Designs from nature, such as leaves, flowers, birds, insects and scenes, are used often for decorating pottery, leatherwork, wood carving, woodcraft, and metal and other crafts.

It should be noted that activities of the sort offered at Swift Creek are exceptionally rich in carry-over values. The incentive for making an article is aroused by the participant's experience in the park. The design is worked out and construction begun at the craft shop to be completed at home. Later, as the participant gains in knowledge and skill, nature, wherever found, becomes a source of inspiration to him. The trees, shrubs, grass and soil of his own yard have a new and stimulating significance; the landscape along the highway reveals an exciting story to him.

From January 1 to August 31 this year a total of 91,151 visitors came to Swift Creek and 6920 of that number participated in the crafts program as follows:

Archery equipment from raw material30
Pottery, clay modeling and molding (native clay)1,469
Weaving and braiding (leather, cord, paper, etc.)111
Wood carving (using native wood)782
Rustic woodcraft (using native wood)2,136
Basketry (pine needles, broom grass, willow, honeysuckle, reed, hickory and oak splits)246
Creative Art (sketching, water coloring, oils)588
Splatter printing, leaf printing, etc.770
Hobbies (collecting, mounting, etc.)79
Indian bead craft (Indian lore)26
Leathercraft (stressing designs from nature)481
Metal craft (stressing designs from nature)65
Paper craft63
Amberol craft17
Finger painting57

Pine Tag Basket

While any natural type of area offers the incentive and background for an arts and craft program, it is of course not feasible to attempt these activities on all non-urban parks. Continued or repeated participation is necessary for the best results. This means that the area should either be located with in frequent reach of the using public, or possess extensive vacation accommodations. Like Nature Study, too, interpretative leadership is needed. The average park visitor in unacquainted with his natural environment. For him to understand its many interesting and exciting manifestations someone must stimulate and guide his perception. If he is offered such a service, his natural curiosity will be aroused and his responses sharpened. Nature will become a common medium for the expression of a growing range of interests rather than just a beautiful and awe-inspiring art gallery for all except a selected few.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002