Mary Cornwell receives 1989 Mountain Heritage Award

Mary Cornwell of Waynesville, creator of the North Carolina State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear and founder of the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, received the university’s Mountain Heritage Award September 30. The award, given each year to an individual dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history and culture of western North Carolina, was presented to Cornwell during the fifteenth annual Mountain Heritage Day activities at the Ramsey Center.

“Few people have influenced the preservation and exhibition of mountain crafts as profoundly as Mary Cornwell,” WCU Chancellor Myron L. Coulter said in presenting the award, “and few have carried on such an extensive activity while seeking neither acclaim nor reward.”  “Because of her works, thousands upon thousands of visitors from throughout the world have come to know the handicrafts of Western North Carolina and neighboring regions of the Southern Appalachians.”  And because of her interest and assistance, Coulter said, craftspeople have “kept alive the treasures that come only from their quick minds and nimble hands.”

Cornwell served for 34 years as an agent with the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service in Cherokee and Haywood counties from 1942 to 1976.  While working as the Haywood County Home Demonstration agent, North Carolina State Fair Director J.S. Dorton asked her to create the Village of Yesteryear, which would be devoted to mountain handicrafts and craftspeople demonstrating the old crafts.

The Village of Yesteryear, an educational division of the North Carolina State Fair where craftspeople of the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia demonstrate their skill, has grown from fourteen to more than 100 craftspeople since it began in 1951. The Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, opened in 1980 in Waynesville as an outgrowth of the Village of Yesteryear, is a repository for outstanding examples of crafts from artists in more than half the state’s 100 counties.