Gatlinburg craftsmen create, sell items to support bear rescue facility
Bears are as much a part of the culture of the area as traffic and pancakes. Now a number of merchants in the arts and crafts community are lending their support to an agency set up to help orphan bears.
Several craftspeople are selling specific products to support Appalachian Bear Rescue, the nonprofit organization in Townsend that takes in young bears and gets them ready to go back into the wild. ABR relies on donations to survive, and the money generated by the sales of the products is making a difference.
"We couldn't do it without people like that," Tom Brosch of Pittman Center, president emeritus of the ABR board, said of the support of the Gatlinburg merchants. "We rely on donations. We don't get any state funds. Our money is all donations."
David Howard of Treasures in Earthen Vessels Pottery has created a mug with the ABR emblem and has sold almost all he made in the first batch. He is making more of the $20 mugs.
"We donate regularly to the auctions they had. They do wonderful work," Howard said. "I felt like this was an opportunity. I am a potter. This is what I do. So I made mugs with their logo on them."
He made around 60 about a month ago, posted them on his website and told Brosch he'd see what happens before committing to more. He sold 50 of them within a few days.
Doug McCrossin, who with his wife Becky owns Country Cobbler in the Glades, created a hangbag to benefit the bear rescue agency.
"I feel it's a worthwhile cause," McCrossin said. "We make a lot of products that have bears, so making one for the Appalachian Bear Rescue made sense."
The ABR bags have what resembles black hair so the bag feels, to the touch, like a real bear.
The facility in Townsend now is caring for 16 bears, including triplets found in a box along a highway in South Carolina in early June. The three orphan cubs weighed around 3 pounds when a motorist found the box — the driver thought it was pupplies and notified authorities when he discovered they were bears. ABR took them in, and Brosch said they weigh nearly 40 pounds now. The babies are being bottle-fed every three hours.
That kind of care takes money. ABR has a full-time curator and two part-time staffers, including one who is a Morristown school principal. Curators do not live at the facility, but the bears are under 24-hour security. ABR hopes to purchase a cabin near the property as a home for the curator.
Howard, who has been a potter for 20 years and in business for 16, is president of the Arts & Crafts Community. He hopes other craftspeople will join the ABR cause.
"I feel the bears have thrived because of their proximity to the national park," Howard said. "I feel obligated to give something back to help support that."
McCrossin, who has worked with leather for a half-century — "I'd rather do that than breathe," he joked — follows the work of ABR on its Facebook page. The agency posts photos and reports almost daily on the bears for which it is caring.