Correction: White Oak Craft Fair is Sept. 14 & 15, 9-5 PM - not the 8th & 9th.
“We moved to Cannon County from Florida twenty-one years ago because it was an interesting little place in a holler—full of fine arts and craftspeople. In this community, everyone is called by name and given a hug…on sight,” says Debbie Vaughn. She and husband Mike are owners of The Old Feed Store, which is an antique mall; a café, The Gathering Place; a greenhouse; and a feed source—all inside the county seat of Woodbury, Tennessee! Her words ring true, as tiny Cannon County is comforting, familiar.
Such a feeling could stem from the intimate population of somewhere around 13,000 folks who work in support of a more relaxed, handcrafted lifestyle. Still likely, cords of harmony are strummed when driving through the hills and hollers of a changing country terrain.
Joe Brown, artist blacksmith and solid presence at the Cannon County Arts Center, emphasizes the rural feel of it all “Cannon is up and onto the edge of the Highland Rim. Small agricultural operations are still abundant and crafts are very strong here,” he says.
A trip there is a reprieve from dizzier paces in turned-up spaces. Cannon County has never had railroad service or direct access to the interstate. Many residents drive to work into neighboring Rutherford and Davidson Counties, preferring a more peaceful home setting. Besides, the living in Cannon is rich. As John Whittemore, Sales Manager of Short Mountain Distillery, boasts, “My family has been in Cannon County for four generations, and I can say that you won’t find anyplace in the world with more unique landscapes and characters than here.”
Stands to reason, since the 1836 Tennessee Legislature saw fit to create Cannon from an amalgamation of portions of Rutherford, Smith, and Warren Counties. This harmonic conversion has been rewarded in modern times by Woodbury’'s inclusion in John Villani’s “The 100 Best Art Towns in America.”
The genesis of such quiet fame begins with a strong reverence for a time in the 1930s, when hundreds of Cannon County residents were engaged in the production of chairs and baskets. Decades later, a rural development group spawned from the Cannon County Extension Service ate lunch and made plans for heritage hallelujah.
Donald Fann, Executive Director of the Arts Center of Cannon County, says, “The group focused on tourism: improving road signs, arranging for volunteers who would offer their homes for overnight stays, and finally, creating the fiscal agent of our arts center, the Cannon Association of Craft Artists.”
With a background in theater, Fann has a skill set that garnered him honors this year in leadership, as a recipient for the Governor’s Arts Award. Serving some 40,000 people each year, he directs the energy of five full-time staff members and a multitude of volunteers holding reign over a Grammy-winning record label, folklore exhibits, community theater and a school matinee series. And as the cherry on top, The Arts Center operates with 80 percent earned income.
Fann is quick to note that, in Cannon County, “within a thirty mile radius, there are 200 artists.” This fall, like twenty-two Septembers before, The Arts Center will revel with the White Oak Crafts Fair. The fair jury unifies potters, jewelry crafters, furniture and basket makers, wood turners, and glass blowers—each and every one outdoors and close to The Arts Center along the banks of the East Fork Stones River.
Fann continues, “White Oak is different from other art fairs. We have found a balance with a smaller number of eighty artists who are invited. We multiply the exclusivity with an invitation to The Art Center gallery, where the vendors’ signature pieces will be on display.”
The Arts Center can tout an in-house eatery, Blue Porch Restaurant. Owner Wanda Thompson brings enthusiasm from a longtime catering and bed-and-breakfast business. “Farm to table is a big deal here in Cannon County,” she says, emphasizing their take with seven varieties of handcrafted hot sauces that the restaurant casts from local peppers. The ever-changing menu is as local as the Cannon County Farmers’ Market, which can be found in The Arts Center parking lot each Saturday.
Harold Duggin has been a regular at the market for the past five years and says, “Ever since I retired from the Woodbury Farmers Co-op, I have enjoyed meeting people and selling vegetables, pumpkins, and blackberries. Close to The Arts Center is the best place for our market.”
Wanda does not have to go far to score ingredients for Blue Porch desserts featuring Short Mountain Moonshine, Cannon County’s premier distillery. Using sustainable methods to protect the heritage of farming life, the 300-acre farm utilizes an open-pollinated variety of corn, a two row planter (few and far between), and a stone mill.
The consequence brings in a score of “90”—the highest award for moonshine in the nation!—not to mention, countless curious day-trippers who yearn for the coziness provided by handcrafted talent.
Evan Hatch, erudite folklorist at The Arts Center, makes it official: “Some of the smartest people that I have ever met are here in Cannon County.”