Hambidge Center photos
The property features over a dozen historic buildings, including the original stone farmhouse.
Hidden away on 600 acres of pristine forest near Dillard, Ga., is one of the oldest and most remarkable artists’ colonies in the southeastern United States. Known as the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, this cherished respite welcomes about one hundred visual artists, writers, composers and choreographers from around the world each year, providing them with uninterrupted time to pursue their work in nine secluded mountain cabins and studios.
The Hambidge Center, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, features more than a dozen buildings, including a turn-of-the-century stone farmhouse, a spring house, and a working grist mill (open to the public the first Saturday of each month). The surrounding forests and streams support a bountiful biodiversity — 4,000 species of plants, 60 species of mammals, 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, and countless types of salamanders, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
This rich environment boasts an equally rich artistic history. Mary Crovatt Hambidge, the Center’s founder, was an unconventional woman, to say the least. Born to a privileged family in Brunswick, Ga., she escaped finishing school to perform as a professional whistler (with her pet mockingbird, Jimmy) on vaudeville stages in New York City. She married Jay Hambidge, a Canadian-born artist whose early credits ranged from illustrations in pulp magazines to highly regarded paintings.
Together, they traveled extensively in Greece. Mary studied the ancient craft of weavers who sheared their own sheep, spun the wool, and wove fine fabrics as part of daily life. She became a passionate crusader against the Industrial Revolution and believed that human creativity bloomed in close contact with nature.
Widowed prematurely in 1924, Mary Hambidge returned to Georgia and settled in the mountains. She was determined to keep alive both her own obsession with ancient Greek weaving and her husband’s work. As the Depression unfolded, Hambidge helped revive the traditions of Appalachian weaving, cultivating northern markets and empowering the women of rural North Georgia communities to support their families in hard times. The New York outlets she found for these Rabun Studios textiles supported countless mountain households through the 1930s. The Weavers of Rabun even fulfilled a commission to outfit President Harry Truman’s yacht with their distinctive fabrics.
But the easy availability of steady mill jobs in the 1950s caused the Weavers of Rabun to disband. Hambidge began to invite artists and friends from around the world to visit her land for extended creative retreats. The publication of Eliot Wigginton’s first Foxfire book stands out among the remarkable work that the Hambidge Center nurtured in its early days, creating a bridge that connected regional heritage and crafts with a broader national audience.
Mary Hambidge died in 1973, leaving behind an Edenic parcel of land and a complex artistic vision. Hers was an inclusive, populist view of creativity, in which community-based folk traditions wove seamlessly into the fabric of cosmopolitan art. The Hambidge Center today is an oasis of beauty, peace and solitude that enables true reflection and focus. Every aspect of the environment supports the creative work that artists come to accomplish.
Although most of the Hambidge Center is off limits to visitors in order to protect the privacy of resident artists, special events are open to the public. These include exhibitions of art and outstanding pottery at the historic Weave Shed Gallery, seasonal festivals, and periodic firings of the Anagama kiln that attract ceramic artists from all over the region. There are many other reasons to visit and support this beautiful site as well. Lucinda’s Rock House, the historic main building, gazes over dramatic lawns, with a spring and a lovely, old spring house. Barker’s Mill, a 19th century gristmill, is open and working the first Saturday of every month. The Antinori Pottery Studio hosts workshops and classes. Visitors are also welcome to stop in the Center’s main office for permission to walk the beautiful Cove Forest Trail along Betty’s Creek.
Thanks to one woman’s vision nearly a century ago, the Hambidge Center continues to provide a gracious space for creativity, where new art waits to emerge.