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Brasstown Carvers


Brasstown carvers at work
“Often it (carving) has meant the sole source of a doctor’s bill...or food for my children. I am happy that I have the gift of carving and that the Folk School has given me the opportunity to use it.”
This 1947 testimonial from Brasstown Carver, Hope Brown, helps express the stability that the carving cooperative brought to the Brasstown community. The craft of wood carving developed organically at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Our local folklore traces the beginning of the Brasstown Carvers to Mrs. Campbell, who witnessed a group of men on the porch of Fred O. Scroggs’ general store, “idly whittlin’” with their pocket knives. When no spare wood was available, these self-proclaimed “sons of rest” would carve into the bench on which they sat. In an effort to preserve his bench, Fred O. drove nails into the length of the bench, which persistent carvers worked around. Mrs. Campbell saw the potential skill and productivity in these men and provided them with blocks of wood and direction.

The Brasstown Carvers flourished under the leadership of Murrial “Murray” Martin, who was hired as the craft teacher in 1935. As an occupational therapist, Murray had experience teaching both weaving and carving. Murray’s designs of mad mules, geese, pigs, dogs, and other animals observed on the farm, have made the carvings nationally recognizable. Murray provided carvers from a radius of ten miles with blocks sawed out at the school’s wood shop. Carvers would walk to the school weekly to pick up blanks, drop off finished products, and meet with Murray and other carvers for informal critiques. This social setting was conducive to discussions about politics, local issues, farm practices, and topics of a greater scope, further uniting the community.

Murray’s leadership, as well as increasingly stressful economic conditions, encouraged more women to take up carving. Traditionally wives would be involved in the sanding and finishing process, while husbands were the “real” carvers. However in the 1940s, it was quite common for women to hold their own as carvers. The supplemented income that carving brought to these farming families was enough incentive for anyone to be willing to learn the skill. A notable case of success brought on by carving is the Hensley family. Hayden and Bonnie Logan Hensley were early students and carvers at the Folk School. Their supplemental carving income allowed them to purchase a home which they referred to as “the house that carving built.” Although the economic benefits certainly motivated carvers, they stressed that they carved for the pure joy of it.

While the height of success for the Brasstown Carvers was reached in the 1930s and 1940s, with well-recognized names such as Glenn and Hope Brown, John, Jack, and Ben Hall, Nolan Beaver, and Dot Reese, the tradition of the Brasstown Carvers is thoroughly alive today. Original carvers, Hope Brown and Helen Gibson still carve for the Folk School, while Gibson serves as the resident artist for wood carving. Between six and fifteen other carvers still produce work that they deliver to the Folk School Craft Shop twice a month.
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1-800.FOLK.SCH (365.5724)
828.837.2775 • (fax) 828.837.8637
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John C. Campbell Folk School
One Folk School Road
Brasstown, NC 28902


Office Hours:
Mon.-Fri. 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST

Craft Shop and History Center Hours:
Mon. - Sat. 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST
Sun. 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST

John C. Campbell Folk School is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

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