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An Artist's Biography
A story of how I came to what I see

South Fork Ashe County   South Fork, New River   early Spring 1979

37 years ago along the banks of the New River in Ashe & Alleghany counties,
the farming culture, such a big part of what all I learned in those early years,
was hanging by a thread when I arrived in the summer of 1977.
Even in its wanning though, I was completely immersed in it.

Colonel Barr Colonel Barr 1982 From 1979 to 1987 I apprenticed at
Barr Cabinet Shop. It was founded
in 1872 by Felix Barr after he walked
from Jefferson NC to Galax VA,
bought a lathe head & tail stock,
strapped it to his back and walked home.

When I arrived in 1979
the shop was run by his son Basil Barr.
He was 85 years old
and referred to by some as "Colonel",
which had been his retiring
rank from the army.
Ralph Shoemake Ralph Shoemake   winter 1982

And at his side was Ralph Shoemake, who had begun his apprenticeship
under Felix Barr while in his mid-twenties. In 1979 Ralph was 75.

From curing your own lumber, to design, construction and finishing,
to sharpening your own tooling, to repairing and maintaining your
machinery and buildings, I watched and learned a centuries old
mountain way of having to do it all yourself.

cool evening Barr Cabinet Shop   winter 1982
cattle North Fork, New River   winter 1984

I also tended the small orchard, vineyard and gardens, helping with
the harvests and the making of cider and wine in the fall.
I mended fences, tended to pastures and cattle, fixed roofs, doors,
siding and windows; and I helped Blanch Barr, the Colonel's wife,
on some cool evenings, harvest rhubarb for making pies.

cool evening summer along the river bottom   summer 1983

Ralph Ralph   fitting drawers Ralph hardly ever spoke
and I often wondered
to what extent I was
considered a nuisance.

This 'ol sawyer's son
had a true mastery
of the craft.
Though I have said to others
that I am a woodwright,
it is difficult to think
of myself as anything other than the
Woodwright's apprentice.
So, here,
under the watchful eyes
of the Colonel and Ralph,
I started to learn the
carpentry & mechanics
of furniture.
Ralph Ralph and Colonel Barr   in conference

What was In the Wood, though, was revealed to me through
the life I was living, by the world I had stumbled into;
there in amongst the hidden lands of the confluence of the
New River's north and south forks.

New River South Fork, New River winter 1978
New River South Fork, New River   'ol Sturgil homeplace   summer 1980

The mountain's hum of a summer afternoon,
the hush of the land on bitter winter mornings . . .

river Vale, NC   Kate Wyant homeplace   winter 2009
. . . learning to turn
on a lathe hauled in by foot
over a 100 years before I got there;

I came of age here,
my youth steeped in a culture
of olden ways - in a landscape
peopled by many elders
Ralph Barr Cabinet Shop   the 1872 lathe from Galax, VA
acorns Vale, NC In 1989, while living in
Vale, NC, I started my first shop
We called it Simply Shaker.

In 1997 my wife and I
started Acorns, with the shop in Vale
and a small showroom in
Black Mountain, NC.

In 2000 I left my own business behind
to work for others.

After a very brief stint with Bakker Furniture
in Hildebran, NC, in July of 2000
I started working for the
Robert Bergelin Co. in Morganton, NC.
shop my "shop" in the Robert Bergelin Co. plant   Morganton, NC

By December of that year I was building for the Bergelins as a contractor
out of my own shop. In the spring of 2003, my little shop & I moved out of my barn
and into the Bergelin plant in Morganton.

shop Bergelin Custom   Morganton, NC

The spring of 2009 brought the closing of the Robert Bergelin Co. In January of 2010
the Bergelins and I opened Bergelin Custom - the same line of furniture, but with me as
the only builder and a much smaller space.

teaching Western Piedmont Community College   Morganton, NC

With little to no work at Bergelin Custom in the spring of 2011,
I started working at Steven's Cabinet Shop in Chesterfield, NC.
But, more significantly, in the fall of 2011 I started
teaching woodworking at Western Piedmont Community College.

shop Western Piedmont Community College   Morganton, NC

I had had some brief encounters with teaching and training,
but what has unfolded out of me at Western Piedmont has
taken me by complete surprise.

vale shop rubbing down a walnut table   Vale, NC   spring 1999 Each phase
and stage
of my woodworking
has improved
technique, execution
and timing.

As a woodworker
my attentions have
always been aimed
at the wood
and what I am aiming
to accomplish.
vale shop turning a pedestal   Robert Bergelin Co.   spring 2008
WPCC shop cutting out tails   Independent Study   WPCC   summer 2013 Teaching, however,
has created an entirely
new facet
. . . an entirely new focus.

Now what I am
aiming to accomplish
has to do with
other people
and what they are
aiming to accomplish.

It is still about what is In the Wood, but with teaching, as I address the shop - the machinery -
it no longer has to do with what I see In the Wood. My focus is to track out what
it is a student is seeing and what can I do to help clear the lines of sight
by revealing some technique, an alternate sequence,
or simply by listening to them explain their idea.

wpcc turning a plate   Western Piedmont Community College   summer 2013
teaching working off the bugs   Western Piedmont Community College

With teaching, what I know does not create some wooden thing.
Sharing what I know creates feelings of accomplishment,
frustration and sleepless nights in others.

wpcc showing off our stuff   Woodworking Show   Hickory, NC   fall 2013

In witnessing a sense of accomplishment in another's eye,
I've learned that what is In the Wood is not only what I see there,
but there is also the fun and enjoyment of helping others
see what they can see.


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