Workers in Wood

Workers in Wood

Programwood workers
Over 200 years ago, the early American settlers rode on vehicles and used items they made by hand. Wheelwrights and blacksmiths assembled wagons. Wooden dolls and toys bore the mark of their makers. These craftspeople used the materials that were available through nature--iron, copper, clay, stone and wood. Today, several North Carolinians continue the fine art of woodworking. Folkways' Workers in Wood introduces us to wheelwrights and wood carvers who craft intricate figurines or dolls.

The journey begins in Tyler, North Carolina, where Emmett Jones describes the complex process of making a wagon wheel. Wheelwrights not only have to have carpentry skills, but they must also know blacksmithing. Emmett shows how he painstakingly carves and saws the axle to prepare it for the spokes and how he must measure the distance between the spokes before he adds the tire frame. Making the tire hones his blacksmith skills as he heats and shapes the metal to fit around the rim. Moving to Brasstown, the home of the annual Fall Festival at the John C. Campbell Folk School, we will see Nolan Beaver's small intricately carved wooden figures. In Thomasville, home of furniture in North Carolina, George Servance makes dancing wooden dolls of all varieties. He explains his use of different types of wood for each piece of the doll and shows how his dolls can tap dance to David Holt's guitar music.

Folkways' Workers in Wood will give you a new appreciation for wood carved figures and for life before assembly lines. For Emmett, Nolan and George, carving by hand is their passion and their final products are stamped with their tender care and talent.

Woodwork in Colonial America
Because handmade furniture is so common in North Carolina, few of its citizens realize how much importance the early colonists placed on a piece of furniture. Furniture for the average family in the 1700s did not come from a factory or from overseas; men typically made tables, chairs, beds and cooking utensils for their families. Children played with toys carved by their fathers' hands. Dining and sleeping were not the pleasures they have become today.

Because the log houses of colonial America were small, the family of a tradesperson had to save space. In the dining area, tables had gate legs, or short, narrow pieces of wood attached to the underside of the tabletop that could swing like a gate latch to support drop leaves that were hinged to the tabletop. The leaves allowed the family to adjust the table to be longer or shorter, depending on how many guests they were feeding. Local wood workers made their furniture out of cherry, pine, walnut or mahogany. All except for the mahogany are native to North Carolina. Because of the lack of storage space, women had few cooking utensils and even fewer for eating. Dishes consisted of clay, pewter or wood. Several families shared from a trencher, a deep wooden plate that allowed two people at a time to eat. People used wooden or pewter spoons with which to eat.

Bedroom furniture design also took space saving into account. Most chests of drawers were lowboys, short chests that also served as side tables, or highboys, tall chests made by stacking one chest on top of the other. Most colonists followed English furniture patterns, but several also began personalized styles, some of which have lasted through generations, such as Benjamin Franklin's rocking chair.


John C. Campbell Folk School
This folk art school, situated in the North Carolina mountains, offers classes in a variety of different crafts. It is non-competitive, so there are no credits and no grades.

Carolina Expo in Woodworking
Each year, Greensboro hosts a large supply show for woodworkers and furniture makers. Find out more about it through this Web site.