Taft Greer, Master Weaver
Taft Greer was a master weaver who wove beautiful coverlets using the overshot weaving technique that had been handed down in the Osborn family for generations. He learned this ancient skill from his grandmother, Nancy Osborn Greer. According to Joe Wilson of the Smithsonian Institution, Taft and Nancy were the very last weavers that scholars know about who learned in a family tradition. The loom had been passed down to Taft’s grandmother Nancy from her grandmother and has a date on it of 1801. When Taft was around seven years old, he would wait until his grandmother left her weaving shed and he would slip in to try his hand at weaving the beautiful old patterns that he had watched her weave. He messed up her patterns so much that she saw to it that he learned proper weaving.
Taft practiced the skill of weaving from sheep to finished product. He made his own dye from roots, herbs, and walnut hulls along with his secret mixings for special colors. His grandmother taught him to weave several old patterns including the one pictured—“Walls of Jericho.” His grandmother used her skill to support her family and Taft was able to benefit financially from what she had taught him. In the 1960’s and 70’s, his handwoven coverlets sold for $60 to $85.
In 1968, Taft was invited to participate in the “1968 Festival of American Folklife” at the Smithsonian Institution to demonstrate his ancient skill of weaving. As a result of that invitation, his skill was recognized in many places throughout the country by the news media. For example, the Nashville “Tennessean” newspaper carried an article about him along with a picture of him weaving the “Walls of Jericho” at his 1801 loom. A copy of the program for the Smithsonian’s “1968 Festival of American Folklife” had Taft Greer listed on page 24 as a Tennessee weaver. Another interesting note about the Festival is that in addition to Taft being listed, some of Taft’s Johnson County neighbors are listed as Performers in the Appalachian music category—Fred and Kenneth Price and Clint and Clarence Howard from Johnson County and Doc and Merle Watson from just across the NC line. Artists from Johnson County were well represented in 1968 at the Smithsonian Festival in Washington D.C.