-The Paper Dragon: A Raggedy Ann Story
Johnny Gruelle, 1926
But the real storybook presence here is the scores of
bright-eyed. yarn-haired dolls that spill out over the edges of wooden shelves
and tables; floppy ragamuffins who have endeared themselves to generations of
children worldwide-America's favorite folk dolls. Raggedy Ann and Andy.
At the center of this Cashiers, North Carolina outpost sits
The Last Great Company's amiable owner—proprietor, Kim Gruelle. For Kim, The
Last Great Company is more than just a gift shop or stop-off for travelers
headed deep into the mountains. It is the true, spiritual home of Raggedy Ann
and Andy. In this, the most magical of mercantiles, Kim has made it his
business-and his pleasure-for the past 12 years, to watch over and perpetuate
the gentle legacy created more than 75 years ago by his grandfather, Johnny
A prolific writer, gifted illustrator, and skilled
playthings designer, Johnny Gruelle is best known as the creator of Raggedy Ann
and Andy. He also possessed a keen understanding of folklore, a near-mystical
affinity with magic, and a spiritual love for nature and the great outdoors.
Johnny particularly loved the forest, and drew much of his creative inspiration
from long walks in the woods. When he began writing about his whimsical
Raggedys during the teens and twenties, he was determined to give them an
enchanted playground; a special, far-off wooded place all their own. Eventually,
Gruelle dubbed this mystical, mythical locale the Deep Deep Woods. Here, in an
imaginary, pastoral wonderland full of fairies and gnomes, the lively Raggedys
could race through trees, from thicket to thicket, munch to their hearts’ content
on cookies that grew on bushes, and drink from bottomless soda water springs.
Kim and his parents, Worth and Sue (who live just up the
road) work hard at seeing that marketing concerns don't overshadow the Raggedys’
true spirit. According to Kim, that spirit has at its center a very important
value: unconditional love.
"It's a natural thing," notes Kim, "that the traditional
images and spirits of Raggedy Ann and Andy have persisted. Traditional values
never become passé when you love unconditionally."
Certainly, Kim's mountain mercantile embodies that true
spirit created so many years ago by his grandfather. From the wooden Raggedy
cutouts waving hello on the front porch, to the smoke wafting out of a crooked
little chimney, to the babbling brooks and lush Carolina woods that lay just
beyond the doorstep, The Last Great Company is a “real for-sure” Blue Ridge
version of the places Johnny Gruelle wrote about and illustrated-a welcoming, Deep
Deep Woods kind of place where the best and most magical of adventures still
Folklorist Patricia Hall wrote the illustrated biography,
“Johnny Gruelle, Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy," published by Pelican