Mary Crovatt Hambidge

I want to share with y'all the story of a remarkable visionary woman who created a sustainable community in the north Georgia mountains long before it became the “thing to do”.

Mary Crovatt was born in 1885, to a prominent family in Brunswick, Georgia. Mary left the South early in her life to attend boarding school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From there she moved to New York City as an aspiring actress and supported herself as an artists model as well as working in vaudeville where Mary was considered a world class whistler and performed with her pet mocking bird, “Jimmy”.

Mary and Jay Hambidge                                                                   photo courtesy of The Hambidge Center  

Mary and Jay Hambidge                                                                   photo courtesy of The Hambidge Center

 

Mary probably met Jay Hambidge through the art community in New York. Mary took his last name and called him her husband, but they never married, in fact, he had a wife and four children that lived in Iowa. Jay Hambidge evolved a system for ordering visual elements, which he named “dynamic symmetry”. He believed dynamic symmetry was the foundation for all great art and outlined mathematical laws of proportion based on patterns of plant growth. In 1918, he wrote to Mary that an examination of a maple leaf caused him to see the link between art and nature. Many artists of the day used Hambidge's design elements in painting, crafts and architecture. Companies such as Tiffany's used it in their designs and Chrysler used it in designing several of their cars. In 1920, Yale Press sponsored a trip to Greece where Jay could corroborate his theory of dynamic symmetry through the use of on site measurements of the Parthenon.

Mary accompanied him on this trip and it altered the course of her life and formed the basis for her major accomplishments. You see, Mary began studying with Kria Elene Avramea who ran a weaving studio where Mary learned to spin and weave. She also met Eva Palmer Sikelianos, an American married to a Greek poet. Eva created performance pieces based on Byzantine and Greek music that included music, dance and poetry all performed in garments she wove. Mary didn't share the belief of most of the textile artists there that you should be bound by traditional design and Mary began creating her own aesthetic drawing inspiration and techniques from tradition but not bound by convention.

Within three years, Jay Hambidge died from a stroke while he was delivering a lecture. After Jay's death, Mary tried to make a living as a weaver and was constantly looking for ways to lower her cost of living. In seeking an inexpensive life style, Mary lived at a friend's mountain house located in Mountain City in Rabun County, Georgia. She fell in love with the mountains and “discovered” the Appalachian hand weaving tradition. Mary, like most people thought that hand weaving has disappeared a long time ago in the southern United States.

After two years of living in the mountains, Mary returned to New York City, there she met Eleanor Steele, an opera singer, while they were working together on an opera production. Mary was hired to weave all the costumes and adapted each costume to the exact proportions of the cast member instead of just hemming them all the same, irrespective of the person's height, which was the usual method. While in New York, Mary also wove all of her own clothes, it seems they had a decidedly Grecian flair and some said they had the look of a costume rather than every day wear. She used a heavy silk warp and a lighter silk weft and employed Jay's design figures woven in an inlaid tapestry technique.

photo courtesy of www.indiana.edu

photo courtesy of www.indiana.edu

While living in New York, Mary envisioned a place in the Georgia mountains where crafts and agriculture could be practiced according to the principles developed by Jay. She expanded dynamic symmetry and imagined a self-sufficient lifestyle emerging from the practice of balance and proportion

Eleanor Steele pledged to support Mary in her dream.

Mary moved back to the North Georgia mountains and rented space where she employed recent high school graduates as weavers. The girls lived in one cabin and Mary in another, eating and weaving together in a larger central building. Soon Mary realized she needed more space for both weaving and farming and began searching for land. She wanted land where she could create her sustainable community. Mary found an ideal space along Betty's Creek in the Rabun Gap area. In 1938, Mary purchased 800 acres using $6000 supplied by Eleanor Steele. The property consisted of both bottom land near the creek and mountainous terrain with a large house made out of creek rocks. At 50, Mary finally realized her dream of a place in the mountains.

To be continued..........