North Carolina Folk Art Society held their quarterly meeting in Cashiers on May 24, and I enjoyed planning activities for their visit. A visit to Chivaree Gallery, a tour of a private folk art collection and a tour of an historic Joe Webb-designed cabin by its restorer, Tom Chambers, were on the agenda, as well as lunch at a local favorite, Wolfgang’s Restaurant.
Chambers, a master of woodcraft and an active member of the Highlands Historical Society, moved the historic cabin “Big Billy” to its present location, restored it to its original glory, built a harmonious addition to it, and modernized the kitchen without detracting from its historical aesthetic. He also built and restored rustic cabinetry and furniture for the house. Like the original builders of Webb’s cabins in the early 20th century, he used hand tools and early 19th century log cabin building methods.
Pictures of Big Billy:
Exterior Front (left) and Back
From left: living room w/ original stack-stone fireplace; kitchen; bedroom with Poplar bark panels
Joe Webb was an early 20th-century architect of log cabins in a modernist style. More on Webb, from a piece I wrote for NC Mountain Guide on architecture in the Highlands-Cashiers area:
The most iconic figure in the mountain’s architectural history is undoubtedly Joe Webb, the subject of Reuben Cox’s The Work of Joe Webb: Appalachian Master of Rural Architecture (Jargon Society/ U. of Georgia Press, 2009). At least thirty-six houses in Highlands are known to have been built by Webb between the early 1920s and 1940. His houses are famous locally for their modernist style elements, slab-sided construction, stack-stone fireplaces and chimneys, and pine ceilings with tongue-and-groove construction, but perhaps most of all for their extensive use of chestnut. The American chestnut tree was meeting its demise by an Asian fungus at the exact time Webb was building his rustic mountain retreats for Highlands’ new class of well-heeled summer residents. Chestnut, which once made up one-quarter of all trees in southern Appalachian forests, was long favored as a building material due to its natural lightness and durability. But as dead old-growth trees suddenly littered the forest floor, it became especially abundant and cheap. Luckily, the wood is slow to decay, which allowed it to be used extensively in building and furniture-making during that time period. Webb used chestnut bark siding (which naturally repelled insects and survives intact on only a couple houses), chestnut built-ins, beautiful wormy chestnut paneling, and exterior walls built from hatchet-formed chestnut logs.
Webb’s grandfather had built one of the first homes on the mountain, known as Billy Cabin, and Webb, in turn, created a new kind of cabin for the mountain. Cox writes: “Any Appalachian mountaineer born before the turn of the last century would have been born in, or have lived in, or have helped build, a log cabin. Webb’s ability to view the familiar and transparent design of the mountain cabin and reimagine it for a new clientele of rusticators is no less than remarkable.”
The North Carolina Folk Art Society was founded in 1992 by Allen and Barry Huffman, a Hickory, NC couple who have played a vital role in supporting the state’s living traditions of folk art and folk pottery over the years, including the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove, NC, the only statewide center devoted solely to pottery in the United States. They are also the founders of the hugely popular Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival, which takes place every March in Hickory. The 2014 NCFAS President, Joe English, is a Durham-based collector and folk art enthusiast. Many members of NCFAS are active leaders in the fields of North Carolina pottery and contemporary self-taught art, organizing events such as the Lake Norman Folk Art Festival and making generous donations from their collections to museums around the state. Chivaree extended a hearty mountain welcome to NCFAS!
Pictured, left: Lidded stoneware jar with brushwork decoration by Matt Jones (Leicester, NC)