By Beth Lawrence
Dogwood Crafters recently hosted its 13th annual English tea fundraiser, and apparently it was cracking good.
Each year the crafters are chuffed to host a proper English tea with finger foods served on triple trays to well-dressed guests seated around tables making conversation over hot tea. The event raises money to support Dogwood Crafters’ scholarship programs encouraging the arts.
The teas, which have been held since 2011, began for another reason, served their purpose and were then transformed into a way to keep heritage crafting alive.
Joyce Lantz joined the crafters in 2008 and later joined the board of directors.
In 2010 there was a push to pay off their building on Webster Street in Dillsboro.
“I brought up the idea as a possible fundraiser of having an English tea,” Lantz said. “They said, ‘Do you know how to do it?’”
Lantz wasn’t completely sure, but she knew a place in Tennessee that hosted teas. She was charged with gathering information and presenting it to the board and was later given the green light.
“People really responded beautifully,” she said. “I think they were hungry for something like that, a nice event. It’s a refined thing that I think people miss a little bit.”
Tea and finger foods are served on real china from trays with real doilies and teapots on tables covered with tablecloths.
The crafters didn’t even have a chance to advertise the event this year before seats at the tea tables sold out.
The first teas were held at the Jarrett House in conjunction with the annual Easter Hat parade. Nine teas were held there, and the owners, the Hartbarger family, offered their venue free of charge. The last three events have been at Sylva United Methodist Church.
“It was like halfway through these 12 teas that we paid off our building, which was just fabulous,” Lantz said. “So, we started having the teas be solely a fundraiser for our scholarship program.”
The event not only brings in money from the cost of the 60 or so tickets available. People also donate additional funds during the tea.
In 2021, a family took up a collection at their table and presented it to the crafters because they enjoyed the experience.
The scholarships have been awarded to schools to preserve heritage and professional crafts for over two decades
“That would be potters and weavers and jewelry makers and that sort of thing,” Lantz said.
Typically, the crafters give out five scholarships yearly. Lantz estimates the organization has given out approximately 125 scholarships since the program began. Donations have gone to Haywood Community College, Southwestern Community College, Jackson County Public Schools, Full Spectrum Farms and others over the years.
As with almost everything since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the scholarship program. In 2020 Dogwood Crafters began donating to nursing programs at HCC and SCC.
“This year we split our money,” Lantz said. “One got money for the professional crafts program. The other got money for nursing because that’s still a big need.”
But to keep the association’s work and teas going, they need something more than money. They need new members.
“In this day and time, it’s all the more important,” Lantz said. “As of late with COVID people were looking for things to do. If they had been able to go to a class and learn a craft that appeals to them, it really gave them something to focus on, and also to possibly develop into a money-making career or pass that skill on to their grandchildren.”
Dogwood’s classes are open to the public and give people an outlet to learn a skill or pass an afternoon.
Several Dogwood alumnae have gone on to have successful careers based on what they’ve learned locally.
Preserving heritage crafts also allows people to learn and remember where they came from, what was important in other eras, how to make things with their own hands, and what it took to survive those times, Lantz said.