Beech Mountain Crafts
The Watauga and Avery County area has long been a hotbed for craft, and it was this rich tradition that inspired Jack Guy to create his business.
Throughout much of Appalachian history, the ability to craft with wood was part necessity and part a means for artistic expression. Woodworking was essential to life – from the creation of practical wooden products, such as white oak shingles needed to roof houses or oak ribbons needed for basket making and chair bottoming, to less utilitarian endeavors, like building a dulcimer or crafting a toy for one’s children. Nearly every household included at least one capable wood craftsman.
Beech Mountain’s best-known craft tradition is the distinctive Beech Mountain banjo. Made famous by Frank Proffitt—the luthier, banjo player, and composer of “Tom Dooley” – Beech Mountain banjos, with their small wooden rims, have a gentle tone well suited to solo playing. Many other luthiers have made banjos in the Beech Mountain style over the years, among them Tab Ward, Leonard Glenn, Charlie Glenn, Sam Ward, and members of the Presnell family. This tradition is carried on today by luthier Charlie Glenn.
The women of Beech Mountain in earlier generations, like today, were also expert crafters, especially in textile arts such as quilting and rug-hooking. However, unlike the wooden crafts from the area, the textile arts were rarely sold with any far-reaching distribution. There have been a few exceptions, however, such as the quilts of Ora Watson, who was married to musician and woodworker Willard Watson. Because Ora and Willard made a point to travel to various folkcraft fairs and festivals, her quilts did receive recognition beyond Beech Mountain and were a means for the Watsons to generate income. As once noted by Ora in the North Carolina Folklore Journal, “As I remember, I sold my first double quilts for ten dollars apiece; then fifteen, up to thirty-five, and when it got to fifty I really thought I was getting rich.”
For Jack Guy, mountain crafts represented the potential for a business and a means of support for his community. In the early days of the Folk Revival movement, there was a growing demand for handcrafted items that tourists in the mountains could buy as souvenirs. The toys and instruments of craftsmen such as Clifford and Leonard Glenn, Stanley Hicks, Willard Watson, Sam Ward, and others, found their way into Jack Guy’s store, and may have travelled with Jack Guy on his deliveries to other merchants, hotels, and restaurants throughout the region.
– TJ Smith