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Part One of Biographical Conversations with Bob Timberlake does not begin with the artist’s early years in Lexington, but instead with a heroic tale of two Revolutionary War soldiers who fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, against the British general Charles Cornwallis. The two war heroes, Leonid Valentin and Woolrich Fritz, were both assassinated on the same night by British mercenaries. The two were then buried side by side in a local graveyard.
More than 200 years later, Bob Timberlake explains that Valentin and Fritz were, respectively, the great great great grandfather of Timberlake himself, and of his wife, Kay Musgrave Timberlake. “ Our grandchildren, our seven grandchildren, are from those two souls, as one soul. And we don’t take that lightly. And it’s very important to whatever I think I am or have become or will be, to me, it is. And I think it’s very important to whatever it is I do in life.”
Timberlake’s family history fast-forwards to the early 1900s, when Edgar Timberlake, a traveling salesman, set down roots in Lexington, North Carolina. Edgar, his wife, Dessie, and their son, Casper lived on a quiet street in town. Directly across the street, Emery and Lillie Raper lived in a slightly larger home, with their seven children. It was only a matter of time before the Raper’s oldest daughter, Ella, met young Casper Timberlake. A couple by the time they were in middle school, the two eloped while still teenagers. Their parents were less than delighted, but Casper and Ella Timberlake remained blissfully married for more than 60 years.
In 1932 the young Timberlakes welcomed their first son, Casper Hill “Tim” Timberlake. Five years later, Tim’s brother, Roberts Edgar “Bob” Timberlake was born. The Timberlake brothers enjoyed a boisterous childhood, and during his calmer hours young Bob began drawing. During high school, Bob met Kay Musgrave. The two married in 1957, and settled down in Lexington. By the early 1960s, Timberlake was a partner in his father’s business, and the father of three children. He was happy, but something was missing.
Part Two - It happened on a spring evening in 1965. Just home from a long day at the office, Bob Timberlake came upon an issue of Life Magazine laying beside the sofa. Thumbing through the magazine, he came across a profile of the artist Andrew Wyeth, along with a photograph of one of his works. “It was like a light bulb went off in my head,” Timberlake says during episode two of Biographical Conversations with Bob Timberlake. “It was something like, ‘Wow, that’s what I’m thinking. That’s what I want to paint.'
Timberlake spent the next four years painting when he could, which meant late into the night, after full days of work with his father and brother. Then, in 1969, he managed to arrange a meeting with Andrew Wyeth himself. The great artist invited Timberlake to his home in Pennsylvania, and agreed to look at his work. Timberlake wanted to know if he had what it takes to make a living as an artist. Wyeth viewed a few of Timberlake’s works. “You have a talent,” was what he said.
Exhilarated, Timberlake quit his job and turned to full-time painting. Before long he had his first show, at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, in Old Salem. Pleased with his early success, Timberlake arranged to show his work to a small gallery in New York City. On his way to that meeting, he stopped off at the prestigious Hammer Galleries. The gallery owner, Victor Hammer, happened to be there. He took a look at Timberlake’s work, and agreed to represent him.
Timberlake’s career continued its astonishing momentum. His first show at the Hammer Galleries sold out before the exhibit even opened. He decided to publish a book of his work, and engaged the journalist Charles Kuralt to write the forward. Victor Hammer’s brother, Dr. Armand Hammer, took Timberlake on a whirlwind trip to London to meet Prince Charles, a fan of the native North Carolinian’s work.
And back in the United States, Timberlake and his friend and colleague “Iron Eyes” Cody were twice invited to the White House, meeting President Jimmy Carter in 1977, and President Ronald Reagan in 1985. It would seem that Bob Timberlake’s cup was full. But at the end of the 1980s, yet another opportunity would beckon.
In Part 3 of Biographical Conversations with Bob Timberlake, the artist recalls a remarkable event that happened during a seemingly unremarkable day in 1989. Timberlake had just finished lunch at a Lexington barbeque restaurant. On his way out he stopped by to greet Jay Young, an executive at Lexington Furniture Company. Timberlake had recently finished renovating his new studio, and Young wanted to take a look. The two men walked over to the new workspace, Young entered the studio, looked around, and said to Timberlake, “Wow. We’ve got to do something about this.”
A few months later, Timberlake signed a contract with Lexington Furniture, to develop his own line of furniture. His vision for the new project was simple: “We were trying to share a way of life…it was like the furniture were things that were loved and lovingly used.” Timberlake’s pieces were more than comfortable. They were comforting. A chair you longed to sink into after a long day. A table you could lean upon as you shared stories with gathered friends well into the night. Furniture made of wood that was rich and luminous, but also unpretentious, with knots and other imperfections remaining.
A smash from the beginning, the Timberlake line shattered sales records at the International Furniture Market in 1991. Since then, Timberlake’s furniture has continued to enthrall. And though his pieces are among the most popular in the world, he has insisted that his furniture continues to be made in the USA. An entrepreneur who has fought passionately and successfully against outsourcing, Timberlake has remained loyal to his beloved hometown of Lexington, where he still lives, works, and thrives.