Ossie Clark Phillips
Image courtesy of Bill Bamberger.
Types of Artistry
Ossie Clark Phillips
Avery County, NC
Ossie Clark Phillips was a weaver most of her life. She was born in 1915, shortly after Dr. Mary Martin Sloop and her husband Dr. Eustace Sloop established the Crossnore School a mile from her home in the mountains of Avery County. When the school opened its weaving program and her mother learned to weave, a new way of life opened for Ossie Clark. "My mama had a loom at home, and I'd slip to her loom when she wasn't there," Ossie said, recalling her own early fascination with weaving. All of the Clark children took a turn at the loom. "The boys learned to weave, the girls learned to weave, and if one wasn't on the loom a-working, another would be." For the Clarks, like other mountain families in the area, sales of handwoven goods made by women brought much-needed income amid the uncertainties of subsistence farming.
The minimum age for entering the weaving program on the Crossnore School campus was fourteen, but Ossie stretched the truth "just a little" and got herself admitted at age thirteen so she could weave after school and on Saturdays. She became one of two coverlet weavers, mastering patterns such as "Martha Washington," Lee's Surrender," "Pine Bloom," "Jessie Wilson," and "Whig Rose." She was able to produce coverlet panels that were woven so evenly they appeared seamless when they were joined. Ossie also excelled at the art of finger-weaving, simultaneously weaving the cloth and laying patterns into it by hand.
When Ossie Clark married Elias Phillips at age sixteen, she continued weaving full-time, and mastered every task from filling spindles to selling the finished goods, even while rearing three children. Crossnore recognized her leadership and ability and promoted her to manager of the Weaving Room in 1960. Her dedication to the art of weaving and her belief in its value to the community prompted her to work for reduced pay when the Weaving Room struggled with financial difficulties, an action that allowed weaving to continue at the Crossnore School. Ossie Phillips retired as manager in 1986, and then continued to work another five years. She looked back on her work with both modesty and pleasure. "Well," she said, "I reckon I worked there sixty-eight and a half years. There's not many people stays home on a job that long!"
Ossie Phillips maintained high standards of weaving for herself and for the generations of local people she taught to weave. Those standards played a leading role in building the reputation Crossnore weavers enjoy today. Her own exemplary work has been on display at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, and her woven coverlets have been presented to Mrs. Calvin Coolidge and Mrs. George Bush. Ossie Clark Phillips received the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1998. The Weaving Room at Crossnore School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Note: "Historic Artist" designates one who is deceased but whose legacy continues to influence and inspire new generations.