Hindman (Knott County), Kentucky
Year of Award
Grant or Fellowship
Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship
Robert "Bob" Young is a traditional weaver from Hindman, Kentucky. Floor loom weaving was practiced in Young’s family for generations before he became interested in the artform as an 8th grader. Working on his mother’s old loom that his grandfather set up, Young’s grandmother provided his first weaving lessons. While Young learned many of the traditional patterns, he was also taught an original family pattern designed and passed on to him by his grandmother, which was a common practice for families. Young often used wool from his grandmother who raised sheep, spun the wool, and dyed the fiber with natural dyes.
As a young adult, Young was an apprentice to Una Pigman from the Hindman Settlement School. He studied with her in person as well as by corresponding with her by mail sending 3x5 cards with notes and questions while he was working in Barbourville, Kentucky. Eventually, Young was one of three professional weavers in the former robust weaving program at the Hindman Settlement School.
Weaving (once considered a utilitarian craft that produced coverlets/bedspreads, table runners, and rugs) is a complicated and time-consuming process. In addition to the floor loom, the other tools include a warping reel, thread, yarn, weaving shuttles, and fiber of various kinds to create the woven material. Setting a loom is an intricate process winding the warp and rolling it onto the back beam. Patterns are threaded, with each thread one at a time, through the heddles and the harnesses with a specific pattern, connected to the treadles, and set on the warp to begin the weaving process. The process requires passing threads across the warp with a shuttle and beating it in place, making fine adjustments in the pressure and pull of the fibers to produce tightly woven material.
Young is teaching weaving to Anthony Carter, who has found weaving to be an important part of his substance abuse recovery. The Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman has developed the successful Culture of Recovery program that provides classes to clients from the Hickory Hill Recovery Center and the Knott County Drug Court. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions, Young serves as Carter’s weaving mentor and they continue working together in-person. “Anthony has become my beacon of hope in passing on my weaving skills.”
“I have a strong sense of responsibility and obligation to record and pass along the deep connected history of our people, craft, and institution of Hindman, Kentucky,” explained Young. “Family lineage and genealogy is intertwined with what makes Hindman today and unfortunately the heritage has not been preserved and transferred to the younger generations, as well as I would wish. In my youth, it was far from popular to want to know ‘where you came from.’ I was often ridiculed for my interests, such as music and weaving. While this was difficult, it became a fuel for me to be determined to practice and teach what I knew, as I felt this was my mission in life.”
The Appalachian Artisan Center has provided Young and Carter with studio space to establish a learning and teaching studio for fiber arts, which will include weaving and fiber dying using natural resources. Funds from the fellowship will be used to buy supplies including another floor loom, warping reel, yarn, and thread. Young’s lifelong learning opportunity will also enable Carter to travel on Young’s behalf to learn more about developing the fiber arts studio by visiting the Mennonite Central Committee in Kidron, Ohio, to observe and learn about their weaving and quilting traditions. “It is a delight to have someone so young who is seriously interested as Anthony is in the process of weaving and wanting to make this his life vocation. That alone has been a blessing to me.”