Museum Store Artisan Spotlight: Debbie Grim Yates, Susan Prior Fields & John Gunther - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Museum Store Artisan Spotlight: Debbie Grim Yates, Susan Prior Fields & John Gunther

A general shot of The Museum Store focused on the front display table -- goods seen here include a large colored metal boot, a folk art piece based on the Bristol Sign, wood and fabric baskets, Farm & Fun Time t-shirts and a Season 1 print, glassware, and jewelry.
The Museum Store in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Back in November, we began our first in a series of blogs highlighting three talented artisans whose work we have commissioned to sell in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. These creatives elevate the idea of a souvenir to heirloom status, and this month we continue our series by featuring three more artists whose unique, handmade pieces are true masterpieces.

Photo of a ceramic tray with flower designs and a crossed banjo and guitar with musical themed mug and flower vase.
Debbie Grim Yate’s music-themed pottery.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Debbie Grim Yates

Debbie Grim Yates began her pottery career with an apprenticeship under Robin and Bet Mangum of Sparta, North Carolina in 1993. Like most potters, Debbie quickly became addicted to the clay and, over time, her pottery work evolved into a full-time pottery business in her home studio in beautiful Konnarock, Virginia near Whitetop Mountain. Her love of the work and the resulting quality of her finished pottery has helped her business to grow each year. Debbie’s shop is a trail site on the Smyth County Artisan Trail, and she is a member of ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network. In addition to The Museum Store, Debbie also sells her pottery at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace and Holston Mountain Artisans in Abingdon, along with numerous other craft shops in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. She works primarily with stoneware clay, making wheel-thrown and slab-built functional and decorative pottery.

In addition to her pottery, Debbie is also an accomplished musician combining a soft but powerful singing voice with the ability to play the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. She and husband Tim perform as Acoustic Heritage. Both Debbie and Tim came from musical families, and she hopes to pass on both her pottery trade and her family’s legacy of music-making to her two daughters.

Honeysuckle flowers made from intricate yellow and green beads.
Susan Prior Fields’ floral beadwork.
Photo credit: Susan Prior Fields

Susan Prior Fields

One of The Museum Store’s most prolific and popular artisans is Susan Prior Fields. Susan is self-taught and highly skilled in the craft known as beadwork or “beading” and has utilized that talent to create handcrafted art pieces for more than 30 years. To create her beaded flower and tree sculptures and floral-inspired jewelry, she says that she utilizes “repetition, pattern, precise technique, color, sheen, and translucency, all inspired by nature and thousands of tiny seed beads.” Susan’s flowers are done in the “French method” using wire and beads. The flowers appear fragile but are very robust, strong, and permanent. Her trees are very labor-intensive and most take up to three months to complete. Susan’s jewelry consists of a variety of different tiny beads stitched one bead at a time to create a wearable piece of art.  Each of Susan’s jewelry pieces normally takes one to two full days to create.

Susan has lived in Abingdon, Virginia, for 50 years. She and her husband Charles have two daughters, Suzanna (Richmond, VA) and Gwen (Chattanooga, TN), and one grandson. Suzanna Fields is an award-winning artist whose work is in notable public and private collections. Check her out at You can also visit Susan Prior Fields on Facebook to see more beautiful creations by the artist.

A wooden ladder-like pieces displaying several different colored scarves on the rungs.
John Gunther’s colorful scarves.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

John Gunther

A native of Flint, Michigan, one time self-described “peace and love hippie” John Gunther now resides on the outskirts of Abingdon, Virginia, with his wife Janet. John was one of the original juried artisans signed to The Museum Store in 2014. His colorful, luxurious, affordable, and hand-woven chenille scarves have proven popular with museum patrons for themselves and as gifts. Each scarf is a colorful work of art with a cozy, silky feel that becomes even softer with age. The Museum Store also carries some of John’s woven aluminum art pieces, which he has sold coast-to-coast.

John received a loom as a gift while still a student at Michigan State University and began to learn and understand the diverse uses and possibilities of woven fabrics mixed with other materials such as woods or metals. He graduated MSU in 1972 and lived in Wyoming for a short time before moving to this region. Early in his weaving career, John focused totally on “functional” weaving, making things like shelving, lighting, floor coverings, and wearable clothing, which he sold at local and regional craft shows. Since the 1990s, John has been more focused on “artistic” weaving with his scarves, landscapes using dyed merino wool, and woven creations using aluminum sheeting as his medium. He continues to find new directions to express his art. Visit his website at to see more examples of his beautiful work.

Each of these artisans, along with around 50 others, are featured in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Museum admission is not needed when visiting The Museum Store, and it’s a great destination for holiday shopping. Most artisan items for sale in The Museum Store are not sold online due to inventory limitations. To peruse other items sold in The Museum store, click here.

*Note: There’s perhaps nothing more personal than a gift of the arts, so be sure and stop by the museum – and our wonderful downtown – to support local artisans and small businesses!

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