During her youth in Jackson County, Annie Lee Bryson learned a variety of crafting skills from her mother, including sewing, quilting, and crocheting. But it was during World War II, while working for the National Youth Administration program and enrolled in a class taught by fellow Jackson County native Mrs. Frances Nicholson, that she learned the art that would most catch her fancy. Under Nicholson’s tutelage, Bryson and her classmates learned how to make dolls, hats, mats, and even sandals, out of cornhusks. She made sixteen dollars during the first month that she produced cornhusk crafts, significant pocket money for a young woman in that time and place. Over the years she mastered the art form, and became renowned throughout the region for her skills.
In the following years, even while she was busy raising a family, Bryson continued to be not only an artist but an advocate for other craftspeople in the North Carolina mountains. In 1972 she began to volunteer through Balsam Originals, a co-op organized to help mountain artists turn their skills into a source of income. Bryson also helped to found Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro, which thrives to this day. For her many contributions to the arts and community of the region, Bryson was named 1973’s Woman of the Year by the Western North Carolina Development Club.
Bryson shared her cornhusk crafting knowledge with multitudes of people, in one-on-one lessons, group workshops, and many public demonstrations. She and a neighbor authored an instruction booklet about corn crafts, which she used, along with an updated doll instruction sheet illustrated by her niece, when teaching classes. Bryson was a very popular presenter and instructor at craft festivals throughout the region including the Mountain Heritage Day festival at Western Carolina University.
Annie Lee Bryson passed away on September 6, 2010.