Made in the South Awards

2016 Crafts Category

With his world-class instruments, luthier John Montgomery carries on a centuries-old practice

Photo: Whitney Ott

Crafts Winner

Product: Viola
Made in: Raleigh, NC
Est.: 1983

Whether buzzing through a bluegrass tune or tackling Beethoven’s Fifth, string musicians in North Carolina and beyond rely on John Montgomery for exquisite handmade instruments. Montgomery—whose customers include members of the National Symphony Orchestra—studied his craft in France and was honing it in New York City when he decided to return to his ancestral roots in 1983. “My father’s family is from the state,” he says, “but I also worked with  a lot of North Carolina musicians, so I knew there was talent here.”

Montgomery spends much of his time rehabbing pieces, as well as maintaining the Smithsonian’s and the Library of Congress’s stringed collections, but he also makes at least a quartet—two violins, a cello, and a viola—every year. Each instrument takes a month to finish, starting with his design: “They have to sound good, look good, and be easy to play,” he says. Next, he fashions a mold and selects the woods, coaxing them into graceful hourglass shapes. A wood-resin varnish, using a method he’s fine-tuned over decades, provides the final touch.

Of the pieces Montgomery made this year, his viola, constructed from a mix of American maple and European spruce, hit an especially sweet note. “It has such a rich, full tone,” he says. He knows because he tests his creations, but that’s the most playing he does. “You don’t want to come to a concert featuring me,” he jokes. “My instruments are my legacy.”

Price: $22,000-$23,000

Crafts Category Runners-Up

Product: Dinnerware
Made in: Maryville, TN
Est.: 2013

For all the attention we pay food in the South, Leanne Moe-McQueen believes what we serve it on deserves equal thought—a notion manifested beautifully in her Speckled Ware. Tiny brown flecks of clay peek through the dishes’ soft gray glaze, and naturally undulating edges complement instead of compete with the food they hold. This rustic, ageless look landed the line in restaurants such as J.C. Holdway in Knoxville and Sean Brock’s Husk Nashville, but it’s just as happy in homes. Born from a childhood love of playing tea party and an adult fascination with pottery’s intersection of art and chemistry, all of Moe-McQueen’s plates, cups, bowls, and servingware are hand formed and glazed—and designed to last. “I hope to have people using our pieces and handing them down fifty years from now,” she says.

Price: $190 per place setting

Product: Baskets
Made in: St. Helena Island, SC
Est.: 1958

The artisan Jery Bennett Taylor intertwines her Gullah heritage with West African tradition in each meticulously woven Beaufort Basket, paying homage to centuries of handiwork. Taylor was just five years old when she began learning the Lowcountry tradition of sweetgrass basketry from her grandmother in South Carolina. When sweetgrass became scarce, she taught herself how to use the bulrush employed in her Beaufort Baskets. Cajoling the darker, more brittle marsh grass into the tight spiral lines requires a skilled hand. Museums such as the Smithsonian and private collectors alike prize Taylor’s work, but that’s not what motivates her. “I was always right by my grandmother’s side, soaking up everything she did,” she says. “I do this to carry on her legacy.”

Price: $1,000-$10,000

Whitney Ott


Product: Paper-cut maps
Made in: Charlotte, NC
Est.: 2009

The idea that the places we live in and love shape us is hardly uniquely Southern, but our region’s passion for holding onto these locales—in whatever way we can—runs deep. The mapmaker and artist Karen O’Leary taps into that heritage by creating maps that highlight cities’ geometrical patterns in stark relief. The former architect’s process is simple but slow; she uses existing maps for reference, hand draws their myriad lines and shapes on crisp white watercolor paper, and uses an X-Acto knife to painstakingly cut away parks, rivers, and blocks, leaving behind a spiderweb of streets. “People often use my work to capture special moments and memories tied to a specific place,” she says. She keeps popular areas in stock, but you can commission just about any city or neighborhood on the planet.

Price: $22-$1,300