Craft Corner Surprises Many with Variety

Published 5:20 pm Monday, December 29, 2008

The Canebrake Craft Corner in Demopolis has been around since 1967, and has operated as a gift shop and the Marengo County Historical Society headquarters since 1993, but it still surprises many local people that it has such a variety of arts and crafts on display and for sale, all of these items crafted by local or Alabama artists.

The small four-room building snuggles next to Bluff Hall on Commissioners Street and is bursting with historical items, newly turned out crafts, books, prints, even one-of-a-kind children’s clothing and toys and locally made split oak baskets, to name only a few things on display.

“Over a period of years,” said Kirk Brooker, the operations manager for the Marengo County Historical Society, “we have amassed these Southern items we have displayed here.” The Canebrake Craft Corner boasts being only one of three sites in the nation where Susan Brown Freeman pottery is sold, one of the Society’s best sellers.

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In addition to this now nationally known pottery, the Craft Corner boasts lovely examples of photography and cards of the area’s sites by Audrey Hamilton and Catherine Meador, handmade shawls, purses and other textiles by Joyce Huizinga, Carolyn Cowling pottery, prints of works of the internationally famous Geneva Mercer (1889-1984) who apprenticed with Italian artist Guiseppe Moretti, sculptor of The Vulcan, and so much more.

“If anything has to do with Demopolis, we’ll definitely have it,” Brooker said. For example, there are prints by Nathan Glick, whose wife grew up in Demopolis, fiction and non-fiction written by William Cobb, another Demopolis native, and the number one seller, the Marengo County Historical Society’s cookbook, Cookin’ in the Canebrake, with 950 “best of the best” recipes from local contributors. What sets the cookbook apart, other than great Southern recipes, is the dividers with historical sketches of places and histories, along with the index that catalogs the recipes by category and contributor.

The small building housing these treasures was first donated to the Historical Society just after it acquired their first property in 1967, Bluff Hall. In fact, the Canebrake Craft Corner was constructed of the bricks from the 1832 antebellum house and museum’s kitchen, which was donated to the society by Wilber Atkeison.

In 1967, the small outbuilding housed the history and archives for the Historical Society. “In 1993, the Laird Cottage was donated and the archives moved there,” Brooker said. That allowed the small corner inside Bluff Hall that served as a gift shop to be moved to the Canebrake Craft Corner space and gave the members more room to acquire even more crafts and artistic items they could sell.

The Craft Corner has gained recognition in Alabama, indeed throughout the nation, to the point that collectors from all over frequently call Head Docent Bobbie Mitchell to place orders for various pieces housed in the gift shop.

“At least 50 percent of our customers are from out of town,” Brooker said. “A lot of our locals have never been into the shop. Most don’t realize what we have, but once they come, they come back.”

Just now, Brooker, Mitchell and other members of the Historical Society are excited about the forthcoming book to be published within the year by Eric Saugera, a historian who was Writer in Residence for a few years in Demopolis. Brooker said there is already a waiting list of people who are anxious to buy this authoritative history of Demopolis that he describes as “the most complete history of Demopolis there is.”

According to Mitchell, “We do well with the books we carry.” For the past 12 years, Mitchell has served as a tour guide, runs the shop, and does a number of other tasks for the Historical Society. She said it isn’t unusual for adults who grew up in Demopolis to phone her at the shop asking for assistance in acquiring a special Demopolis print or book, or even an afghan they particularly want for Christmas, from family members still in residence.

In addition to marketing what the gift shop already has, Brooker said the Historical Society is always looking for new Southern talent and new items for the shop.