The fiber arts are woven into the deep history of the Delmarva peninsula.
Runaway slaves traveling through the region in the 19th century could identify safe houses along the Underground Railroad by specially patterned quilts hung out on clothes lines. Fertile fields yielded cotton, and ranches raised the animals whose coats would be repurposed to keep local people clothed and warm. (You might call it a sheep-to-shawl culture.) Makers of linen, silk, paper, mohair, reed, and other natural materials came to establish thriving production hubs throughout the region.
In recent years, the historic main streets of many Delmarva towns have undergone revitalization as local communities take a renewed interest in preserving and extending their unique rural cultural legacy. The Caroline County Council of Arts (CCCA) set its sights on a few sturdy but derelict old buildings in downtown Denton, Maryland. “As a small rural county, we really focus on the economic development aspect of the arts,” says CCCA executive director Marina Dowdall. The rehab of 7 North 4th Street, which appears to be the second or third oldest structure in town, was accomplished with support from the Maryland Historical Trust and Maryland Heritage Areas Authority—but then the structure required a function befitting its reinvigorated form.
Through focus groups and in connection with several local quilters guilds, the CCCA settled on the idea of creating a central networking facility devoted to the history and ongoing practice of the fiber arts—sewing, basket-making, quilting, felting, paper-making, and all other natural-material production known to the region.
In summer 2012 the building was reborn as FACES, the Fiber Arts Center of the Eastern Shore. Maryland State Arts Council provides its operational budget, and a USDA grant enables the center to offer free membership to regional professional fiber artists wishing to be listed in its online directory. It is the only such facility in the region, and one of very few dedicated fiber arts centers throughout the United States. Dowdall hopes to grow FACES into a tourist attraction modeled on a similar center in Paducah, Kentucky. The bright aqua structure with goldenrod trim has become a hub of communal activity. Year-round, FACES offers classes, exhibits, and festivals that connect the history of the fiber arts with current-day practitioners.