Toe River Arts Council. 200 Years Of Charis At TRAC Gallery In Burnsville NC. The exhibition will run from June 20 through July 25.
When you walk through the doors of the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery between June 20 and July 25, you’ll smell the forest. You’ll feel the silken smoothness of the chair arms, the legs, the backs. You’ll see the sheen only a hand-rubbed oil finish can produce. And you’ll be surrounded by generations of Woody’s chair making in Mitchell County in “200 Years of Chairs.” The Toe River Arts Council’s exhibition will take you back to when Wyatt Woody first set foot in the county in the late 18th century and continued a tradition that endures to this day.
Wyatt started from the local hardwoods and ended with handcrafted “mule-ear” chairs (so-called because of the way the back posts of the chairs stick up–like ears on a mule) that he bartered for his family’s needs. These were greenwood chairs with no metal fasteners or glue used on the weight bearing structural parts. Chair posts air-dried, then parts driven together tightly, rounds interlocking. As the posts dry they shrink onto the rounds clamping them tight. And at Woody’s Chair Shop today, that technique is still used.
The business passed from family to family, first to Martin who continued supporting his family by turning out hand-made chairs, and then to Arthur Woody, the third generation of Woody chair-makers and among some of the first instructors at Penland School of Crafts. He and his daughter, Miss Decie, taught the art of seating chairs with hickory bark at Penland’s newly established “Related Crafts” department. They were Lucy Morgan’s neighbors and friends. In her book, Gift from the Hills, Lucy wrote of Arthur and his three grandsons, concluding, “We have craftsmen in our mountains!”
Wyatt’s great-great grandson Arval and his brothers, Walter, Paul, Frank, and Floyd, picked up the chair business after the war. Although Arval had been hanging around his grandfather’s wood shop since the age of 6, he didn’t decide to carry on the tradition until he returned from World War II and discovered that jobs were hard to come by. From his knowledge gathered from early years of watching and learning, wood from his father’s sawmill, and a desire to make the best chairs available from the pride innate in the legacy of his family, Arval and Walter kept the chairs coming as his brothers followed other paths.
From the wooden, waterwheel-powered barn workshop to the concrete block building Arval and his brothers built in Grassy Creek in 1946, Woody’s Chair Shop still operates, still makes chairs. Today, Scott Woody stands before the lathe—a seventh generation Woody.
And over in McDowell County, Max Woody, a second cousin, has operated his own chair shop for over 60 years—with the same use of local materials, attention to detail, and same beautifully simple designs.
When Wyatt began producing chairs, the cost was perhaps a bolt of cloth or a couple of cans of coffee. Arval’s grandfather sold them for 3 for $1 when an acre of land went for $3. When Arval and his brother began making the Betsy Ross chair (modeled after the one she likely sat in while sewing the American flag), the price tag was $7.00. Now a Woody’s chair is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Art and Design and in some of the finest homes around the world. In 1952 through a connection with Terry Sanford, then Governor of North Carolina, three of Woody’s chairs went to the White House—one for President Kennedy, the other two for his children, Caroline and John, Jr. But being commissioned by the White House wasn’t Woody’s proudest accomplishment. That was reserved for being named a North Carolina Living Treasure by the UNC Wilmington Institute for Human Potential.
Arval Woody summed up the fine tradition of chair making that Woody’s has come to represent in one short sentence, “We get the tree in the forest, and when we finish it up, it’s in the living room.”
The exhibition will run from June 20 through July 25 at the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery, 269 Oak Avenue. A reception honoring the seven generations of chair makers will be held on Friday, June 26, from 5 to 7pm at the gallery. The event is free and the public is invited. For more information, call 828.765.0520 or visit the website, www.toeriverarts.org
The Toe River Arts Council is a not for profit organization promoting the arts in Mitchell and Yancey Counties, and supported by donations, memberships, local government, grants (including the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.), and supporters who understand the benefit of art in our community.
Permission for use of photographs from the Arval Woody, Chair Maker, Collection #9 from the D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNC Asheville 28804.