A taste of the 2010 Tennessee Craft Fair

28 comments — posted May 08 2010 by Christian Grantham

Here are a few photos from the Tennessee Craft Fair going on this weekend in Nashville, TN's Centennial Park. Click the photos for descriptions. 

photo.jpg wind chimes Jim McGie Jim McGie Charles Akin mosaic deer gourds Julia Tate


Short Mountain craftsman Ed Wooten's Shaker oval boxes

0 comments — posted Apr 16 2010 by Christian Grantham

This week I hung out with Short Mountain craftsman Ed Wooten as he showed me how he makes Shaker oval boxes. Ed learned to make them at one of John Wilson’s last classes at Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Ed uses copper nails and wooden pegs to hold these sturdy boxes together. He varies the look of his box tops using different wood veneers: Maple burl, quarter sawn Sapele, Sapele pommele, Cherry and Cyprus to name a few. The sides are either Maple of Cherry.

Ed also uses a milk paints to add color to some Cherry boxes like pumpkin, Salem red, tavern green and soldier blue.

Check in later as we explore some of Ed’s fused and faceted glass projects.


Simple living at William Kooienga's Beech Hollow Studios

9 comments — posted Apr 12 2010 by Christian Grantham

Kooienga's cabin William Kooienga

Almost every piece of wood that makes up William and Sharon Kooienga’s modest log cabin home in Dowelltown, Tennessee came from their land. The upper floors are thick Sassafras. The massive walls are solid cedar. And the fire place and chimney all hand selected stones from the property itself.

I’m immediately fascinated by the love and hard work that clearly goes into maintaining his property. I pull in slowly, taking it all in and feeling as though I’m in a very special place.

William’s love for woodworking is present throughout the house. A knotted tree trunk carefully polished and positioned on the wall serves as a staircase rail. The mantle appears to be a slab of osage orange, one of his favorite to work with. The coffee table is a cross section of a massive tree trunk.

As we’re talking in his living room, William gets a call from the LeQuire Gallery in Nashville about some pieces he’s soon to deliver for their new Green Hills Mall location. Despite his deadline William gives me his full attention and a tour of his remarkable home.

Unless you know what to look for, most visitors might think they’re lost coming out to visit William and Sharon, but if you can get an appointment it’s well worth your patience.

A “No Trespassing” sign greets strangers who often know to take that seriously, especially in rural Tennessee. The one lane gravel road cuts through limestone and winds its way deep into the hollow. Along the way visitors are greeted by pieces of art in the natural wooded landscape.

The first house on William’s property you come to is currently occupied by a friend of William’s who grew up with his sons. Josh works in William’s shop up the hill. He directed me further back in the hollow before hopping on his bike to start his day working on a chair.

It was a nice slow drive as it was with gravel mounds formed to direct heavy rains into a nearby creek, but the occasional braking for guineas brought a huge smile to my face. William later tells me the guineas control the ticks.

William shows me where he spent the winter painting through the colder weather. When I asked him how he’ll tolerate the room in the summer, he points to a large spread of branches from a tree outside a large wall of windows. “I’m waiting for those buds to open up and shade this entire window.”

William loves living simply, and if you get to know William, you’ll see a consistent philosophy behind it that is deep and meaningful for him. Both he and Sharon use solar power and get their water from a spring using a 12 volt pump. Now that their two sons have moved out, they’re thinking about getting rid of the toilet. For William, modern living is a distraction that creates far more problems than they are worth.

Kooienga coopWilliam and Sharon keep chickens in an awesome mini log cabin chicken coop adorned with metal farm equipment parts. William said they used to keep goats and would milk them to make cheese. They keep a garden and occasionally hunt their own meat. William says the 100+ acres provides plenty of deer and wild turkey. And nothing goes to waste. Hanging above guests in the living room, in fact, are beautiful bird sculptures made of deer bone.

William first began working with wood teaching a class in a private school for challenged youth in the mid 70s. He remembers how successfully creating something reached and helped heal a part of his students’ spirit in a way nothing else could.

William has always been deeply in tune with his spiritual journey. In his early 20s, William traveled through India and Europe. He took inspiration from the architecture of religious temples. Before moving to Tennessee, his family joined a Sufi community in Asheville, NC where they lived and experienced spiritual-based intentional community living.

This weekend William celebrated his 60th birthday with family and friends, and he tells me his main focus these days is personal relationships with his wife, his family and being of service to others. His most satisfying works are for individuals, and he shows me recent pieces he’s sold.

To William, time has a quality many of us yearn to know where holidays are just another day free of consumer driven madness, and where age 60 might as well be 30. It keeps his spirit fresh and expressively reflected in the works he creates.

You can see some of William Kooienga’s masterful woodworks at the LeQuire Gallery in Nashville and soon at their Green Hills Mall location as well as the Rymer Gallery. Next month, join me as I take you on a tour of William’s studio and some of the amazing works of art we’ll make available to you here.

Here are more photos from today’s trip.

deer bone birds paint station Beech Hollow Studios Josh working Chaz working Oak bowl Beech Hollow Studios found metal drum circle Kooienga coop old chimney Kooienga stones glyph Kooienga sculpture Kooienga's mailbox


Easter weekend blossoms

185 comments — posted Apr 04 2010 by Christian Grantham

Gerber Daisy Bradford Pear Gerber Daisy

Flowers from Mom’s yard in Smith County, Tennessee this Easter weekend. From left to right: fully bloomed Gerby Daisy, Bradford Pear, new Gerby Daisy.


Quilts are the story of America

0 comments — posted Mar 31 2010 by Christian Grantham

Tennessee state flag quiltTake a good look at this amazing quilt. If I had to guess how big it is, I’d say it’s about 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide. I could be wrong, but it’s too large for a bed. That’s for sure.

The design, all of which I didn’t quite capture yesterday in this photo, is the Tennessee state flag. The tristar represents the state’s three geographic divisions: East, Middle and West Tennessee. This American treasure has hung in the lobby of the Tennessee Democratic Party headquarters in Nashville, TN for little over 10 years.

I’ve been asking everyone I could think of what the story is behind this quilt. So far no one knows. Not even Google seems to know. That got me to thinking more about the value of people and their stories.

This weekend, I spoke with a woman from Missouri who had a booth at the flea market at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. She was selling quilts she hand sews.

I was admiring the work of a particular quilt she was selling for $475 and said it didn’t seem like she was charging enough. She laughed and said she never makes money on the time it takes to make them. She told me this particular quilt took her a year to make.

And that’s the real value of these American treasures: people and their story.

Not many Americans could afford a quilt if the quilt maker were to properly value their works of art. The value of a quilt maker’s time is given as a powerful gift of love to those fortunate to receive a handmade quilt.

Just as every handmade quilt has a maker, every handmade quilt has a story.

One of my favorite quilts was made by my grandmother and given to me as I went off to college. It’s a patchwork of scraps, some of them clothes worn by family in the 1960s and 70s. I still have and treasure it to this day. Every time I look at it I am reminded of the hard work and sacrifices of others before me. It’s a powerful symbol for me to this day, and I will cherish it forever.

Quilts do that. They tell a story. They carry the hopes and dreams of previous generations. They symbolize hard work and love. But they can only do that when the story is told and shared. When the story of the people who made them are lost, the greatest value of a quilt is lost with it.

The value of people is our country’s greatest treasure of all. Hidden behind this quilt is the story of people who gave their time to create a priceless Tennessee treasure. It’s a story of love, personal sacrifice, honor and shared heritage. It’s the story of America. It’s a story of people, our story, and it’s a story we cannot afford to lose.


Tom Fuhrman in the Cannon Courier

5 comments — posted Mar 27 2010 by Christian Grantham

The March 23, 2010 Cannon Courier arrived in the mail yesterday. I knew Tom Fuhrman’s story would be on the front page, but seeing and holding the paper is a little different. I’ll visit with Tom again once he’s set up in his new Oak Ridge studios.

View some of Fuhrman’s glass work.


Ed Wooten's Shaker style oval boxes

963 comments — posted Mar 25 2010 by Christian Grantham

Ed WootenOne thing I’m learning about Cannon County is that almost every nook and cranny of Short Mountain has an artist of some kind living there. It’s a special place, rising some 800 feet above the surrounding plane.

Today I visited with Ed Wooten and his wife Janet who bought land there in the late 90s (shortly after their friend Tom Fuhrman) and made the move from Indiana in 2003 in search of a peaceful retirement.

Janet laughs at that and notes how her husband has retired about three or four times. And she’s right. After each job he tells me he retired from, another follows. His dedication to hard work is evident. Even in retirement Wooten continues to stay busy, only this time his focus is on making art.

Wooten has always played with glass as a hobby starting with a pair of stained glass lamp kits Janet gave him in the 1970s. Janet points to a later style lamp on a sofa table in their living room. Wooten now makes fused glass pendants, and this summer will explore faceted glass.

But it was his Shaker oval boxes that recently caught my eye at the Arts Center of Cannon County where he also serves as a board member. Their functional design and 19th century construction were unmistakably Shaker inspired.

Janet shows me the first set of nested Shaker oval boxes one of their sons made a few years ago. After I noted how they seemed a little too good for a first time, Wooten told me his son was an expert cabinet maker.

Wooten and his wife were exposed to Shaker culture when they lived briefly in Kentucky. Wooten remembers an article on Shaker oval boxes made by John Wilson in Fine Woodworking Magazine in the 1990s. Shortly after moving to Short Mountain, Wooten took one of Wilson’s last classes on Shaker oval box making offered at Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. It was an arduous three day class, but it was enough to keep Wooten making them ever since.

Wooten tells me he knows enough about the Shakers to guess why people didn’t always take to the communal way of life. “It’s tough work,” he says with a smile as he told me what he learned about their way of life.

Wooten shows me his shop and the materials he buys from Wilson and his business partner Eric Pintar’s shop in Charlotte, MI. He shows me the numbering system used (0 – 5) for his nested set and why zeroes are the hardest to make.

mistakes“See that curve right there,” he points to the sharp turn on the smallest oval box. “It’s difficult to get the wood to keep that curve without it splintering.”

Wooten shows me a box of scrap veneers his sons send him and how he uses some of the unique grains on box tops. For most of the sides, Wooten uses maple or cherry. The bottoms are most often “lace wood,” or Sycamore.

Wooten tells me the boxes are held together with nothing more than tiny copper nails and wooden pegs for top and bottom. When you hold one of these in your hands it’s hard to believe how sturdy they are.

Shakers used oval boxes in pantries and to hold everyday items like nails, buttons, and sewing kits. Like most folk art, the items are used less out of necessity and more appreciated for their fine craftsmanship.

Next month, I’ll visit Wooten at his Short Mountain shop as he shows me how he puts his Shaker oval boxes together. Here are more photos from my trip.

faceted glass stained glass Shaker box measurements Shaker box copper nails Shaker box forms Shaker box buffer


Acts of prayer by the American Shakers

9 comments — posted Mar 24 2010 by Christian Grantham

Shaker box makerThe old broom press that folk artist Jack Martin uses to this day in Selmer, TN was built in 1878 roughly at the height of Shaker furniture production in America.

This morning I read up on the Shakers to better understand influences of their extraordinary dedication to craftsmanship. It’s a level of dedication I increasingly recognize in works of art that deeply move me.

I learned something that validated a feeling I already had in the presence of most fine handcrafted work. It’s a feeling I cannot explain but recognize as a deep connection to something pure and mindful that can only come in prayer, meditation or works of art.

Shakers were widely viewed as heretics by many Protestants and Catholics alike. They believed that God manifested itself within each person. Shakers held what many viewed as chaotic and disruptive worship and believed in sexual equality, did not believe in marriage and led celibate lives.

It doesn’t take much of a scholar to understand how those very influences drove an extreme dedication to perfect design often found in many monastic religious cultures. From Buddhist mandalas to ornate copies of the Bible made in the scriptoriums of monks, wherever focus shifts to an inward relationship with God, works created become the highest expression of God’s perfect design.

The essential difference in relation to other forms of communal life may perhaps be seen in the fact that the Shakers did not aim to change the nature of the existing society but merely built up their own community in accordance with rules they imposed on themselves. All decoration and embellishment liable to distract the mind from religion was rejected and even branded sinful. The rules, which were first handed down orally and later in written form, became the foundation-stone of the astounding prosperity of the Shakers as well as of the high quality of all their products.

Shaker founder Mother Ann Lee once said, “Labor to make the way of God your own; let it be your inheritance, your treasure, your occupation, your daily calling.” Shakers believed that good construction and design was an act of prayer. The handcrafted works produced, such as practical furniture and accessories, served life’s purpose as a reminder of God rather than a life of consumption, distraction and want.

These principled views embodied in skilled craftsmanship connect us as people on a deeper level rarely found in commercial consumerism. As gifts, they communicate a deep relationship commemorated forever in artful expressions of harmony in perfect handcrafted form and design.

Tomorrow, I’m traveling back to Woodbury, TN to meet Ed Wooten who spends warmer days making Shaker-styled oval boxes I think you and your family will enjoy.


Back to the land movement

0 comments — posted Mar 23 2010 by Christian Grantham

I’ve been reading up on the “back to the land” movement of the 1960s and 70s the more I come across amazing artists living and working in Tennessee.

Understanding how some artists who now call Tennessee home got here in the first place is important to understanding the values expressed in their works.

The following passage in a Wikipedia entry on the subject sums up the feeling that propelled many, including artists, to make the move to a more simple way of life.

Many people were attracted to getting more in touch with the basics just mentioned, but the movement was also fueled by the negatives of modern life: rampant consumerism, the failings of government and society, including the Vietnam War, and a perceived general urban deterioration, including a growing public concern about air and water pollution. Events such as the Watergate scandal and the 1973 energy crisis contributed to these views. Some people rejected the struggle and boredom of “moving up the company ladder.” Paralleling the desire for reconnection with nature was a desire to reconnect with physical work. Farmer and author Gene Logsdon expressed the aim aptly as: “the kind of independence that defines success in terms of how much food, clothing, shelter, and contentment I could produce for myself rather than how much I could buy.”

The parallels with feelings expressed by many today are striking even though they are a generation or two removed. Of course today technology makes it much easier to get closer to the land with commercially available alternative energy sources as well as communications via the web. Next month, I’ll visit an extraordinary artist who was inspired to make such a move to Tennessee in the early 1970s.

This week, I continue my trips to Cannon County where I’m meeting artists who made the move to Tennessee more recently after Woodbury, TN was featured in a 1996 book by John Villani titled The 100 best small art towns in America.

At the center of the town’s promotion of its handcraft traditions is the Arts Center of Cannon County. When it started in 1991, it had a couple thousand visitors. Today it receives nearly 40,000 annual visitors and regularly features exhibits of local artists.

The most prominently featured craft at the Arts Center are handwoven white oak baskets. They serve as symbols of our state’s agrarian heritage. Once used on farms out of necessity, these baskets are now treasured works of art.

Nature, coupled with folk traditions, guarantees a uniqueness for this very active arts community. Handcrafts have a long history here. As an example, Cannon County is recognized for its white oak basketry heritage. “Some of the families have been making baskets for five or six generations,” says Donald Fann, executive director of the Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury. The facility’s Caldwell Collection includes more than 100 locally made white oak baskets.

“The tight-weave baskets are known to be strong, yet relatively lightweight. Many, such as the egg baskets, were made for use on farms,” says museum folklorist Evan Hatch. “They spread outside of this little burg in a unique way. In pre-interstate days, folks who traveled across the state stopped every year to buy baskets here.” Once the need for work containers faded away, the weaving tradition was almost lost. “Now they’re not made for farm use. Baskets are made for artistic merit.”

I hope to feature some of these works of art very soon here at Stones River Company. In the meantime, here’s some photos I took on my last trip to the Arts Center of Cannon County.

white oak baskets white oak baskets nested white oak baskets


Grandma's flutter mill

16 comments — posted Mar 22 2010 by Christian Grantham

flutter millIt probably took all of five or 10 minutes to put together, but it clearly made a powerful impact on my grandmother as a child for her to keep it forever.

Grandma calls it a flutter mill, and to this day it hangs on a red string in her basement among reminders of days gone by. Her father made it like he did most everything his children ever played with during the Great Depression.

The flutter mill sits on sticks in a creek and simply turns with the water. In a time without television, trips to town or much else to keep kids occupied other than working on the farm, it was a playful distraction from hard times.

Grandma told me they knew the Great Depression was happening, but didn’t notice as a kid too much difference from being as poor as they already were. She remembers fondly the corn husk dolls her father would make them when she was a little girl. She tells me most everything they ever had came from the land on their rural farm in Tennessee.

Over the years, Grandma collected all kinds of things. She collected Depression glass, little glass shoes, costumed jewelry, purses from the 1920s, hat pins, and all kinds of antiques. They were treasures from better years, but tucked away in the middle of all these riches hangs this flutter mill you see pictured.

We’ve gotten away from a time when such a simple gift can have so much meaning, when something hand made could have as much if not more value to a person as an antique, even to a child.

We can have those days again if we want them. We can communicate and commemorate our connection with each other with gifts handcrafted with love.


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