Then and Now: The Ancient Craft of Tatting Featured in Tennessee Residence Décor…Again

Monday, December 07, 2009 | 01:25 pm
Charlotte Scott stands in front of the Tatting Tree
Charlotte Scott stands in front of the Tatting Tree
NASHVILLE – A small piece of Tennessee’s past is being lovingly recreated this holiday season at the Tennessee Residence.
In October 1981, an invitation was distributed by the Tennessee Artist-Craftsman Association to more than 400 members inviting them to participate in a project to decorate the Tennessee Residence for the holidays.
First Lady Honey Alexander enclosed one of the invitations in a personal letter to Mrs. Willie Smith Scott of Nashville in which she wrote, “Lamar and I particularly want you to be involved in this project since we are aware of the wonderful handcrafted decorations which you make. Your participation will add immensely to this celebration of the many and varied talents of our Tennessee craftsmakers.”
Willie Scott’s craft was tatting, the ancient craft of knotting, which produces intricate lace designs made from linen or cotton thread. That December, the tree in the Residence was decorated with the handmade ornaments of Tennessee artisans, including Scott’s beautifully tatted snowflakes. When First Lady Alexander hosted a luncheon at the Residence to honor the craftsmen who made the ornaments, the 79-year-old artisan was accompanied by her most ardent admirer, daughter Charlotte Scott.
Fast-forward 28 years to December 2009, and Charlotte Scott, now age 80, is preserving the art of tatting and her mother’s legacy as she decorates a Christmas tree in the sunroom of the renovated Tennessee Residence for Governor Phil Bredesen and First Lady Andrea Conte.
“Mother liked working with color and lead me immediately into the colors and textile art form of tatting,” said Scott. “I have been tatting for 30 years, and this makes the tenth tree I have decorated. I enjoy showing this lost art and hope it will encourage others to learn to tatt.”
Charlotte Scott created more than 650 ornaments for the Tatted Christmas Tree, which features a mural of ornaments on each of its four sides. The tatted decorations, or medallions, represent flowers, herbs, fruits and ferns. Each medallion takes up to four hours to complete. “I thought, if an artist can paint an oil picture on the wall, then why can’t I design a tree in tatting?” she said.
It’s clear that for Charlotte Scott, tatting is more than just a beloved craft, tying her to warm memories created by mother and daughter for countless Tennesseans more than two decades ago. Willie Scott’s works were featured in 1980 at Cheekwood, where a tree branch was turned into an Easter celebration with tatted crosses in 75 different patterns. Later that year, tatted snowflakes and stars covered an old-fashioned tree in Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall as part of the Trees of Christmas, and Mayor Richard Fulton proclaimed December 8 as Willie Smith Scott Day in honor of her work and talent. Her work was widely featured in the Tennessean, Nashville Banner, Tennessee Conservationist and other publications.
Together, Charlotte Scott and her mother donated hundreds of hours of their time to state and charitable organizations, producing tatted ornaments for exhibits throughout Middle Tennessee. While their skill at the nearly-lost craft could have brought a handsome income, Charlotte, like her mother before, has never accepted money for her tatted works of art.
Fast forward another 67 years to Tennessee’s tricentennial celebration in 2096, and the work of Willie Smith Scott will once again thrill Tennesseans. A piece of Scott's tatting is included among the contents of a time capsule buried in a vault in Bicentennial Mall State Park in 1996 as part of the state’s bicentennial celebration.