Pictured at her loom is Mae Gouge Huskins (1911-1984), daughter of Rev. John Anderson and Hulda Thomas Gouge. This photo belongs to Mae’s daughter, Betty Conley; it also appears in Cabins in the Laurel by Muriel Earley Sheppard. That 1935 volume about Mitchell County captions the photo with, “The mountain girl is skillful and can turn her hand to anything.”
Many local girls and women like Mae learned to weave at Penland School, enabling them to bring in extra income for their families. The weavers were assisted in selling their goods in urban markets by Miss Lucy Morgan, born in Murphy, NC, and educated in Michigan. The Appalachian School, begun by Lucy Morgan’s brother, Rev. Rufus Morgan, would become Penland School of Crafts. According to Mae Huskins’ grandson, Steve Willis, “Even before the school had a building, the first loom was hauled up the mountain and assembled on the front porch of Henry and Martha Willis’s cabin.”
Steve Willis, a Presbyterian Minister, is the author of Imagining the Small Church: Celebrating a Simpler Path (2012). He writes that the “local wisdom” of Appalachian folks combined with “skills and learning from outside” the mountains to create a remarkable community. Willis maintains that this community taught his grandmother how to run a business “mountain style.” Mae Gouge married Edgar Fletcher Huskins (1912-1985), and the family for many years operated the Circle Drive-In on Chalk Mountain.