Craftsman of the Cumberlands

Craftsman of the Cumberlands: Tradition and Creativity

Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Craftsman of the Cumberlands
    Book Description:

    Why do people consider aesthetic qualities as well as utilitarian ones in the making of everyday objects? Why do they maintain traditions? What is the nature of their creative process? These are some of the larger questions addressed by Michael Owen Jones in his book on craftsmen in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Concentrating on the work of one man, woodworker and chairmaker Chester Cornett, Jones not only describes the tools and techniques employed by Cornett but also his aspirations and values. Cornett possessed a deep knowledge of his materials and a mastery of construction methods. Some of his chairs represent not objects of utility but aesthetic developments of the chair form. Cornett sought to cope with the problems of his life, Jones maintains; their massiveness provided a sense of security, the virtuosity of their design and construction, a feeling of self-esteem. Jones also compares other area craftsmen and their views about their work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4789-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ONE The Chairmaking Business
    (pp. 1-47)

    The afternoon was hot, the humidity high, the air still. It was one of those dog days of August. My wife Jane and I headed northeast from Hazard on Highway 80, traveling slowly because the road was narrow and winding and because we were looking for a craftsman we had read about two months before in theLouisville Courier-Journal. How we would find him we did not know. The brief article mentioned only a workshop near Dwarf, “deep in the mountains of Perry County.”

    The steep, wooded hills on our right did not invite human habitation. To the left, however,...

  5. TWO The Masterpiece and the New Design
    (pp. 48-79)

    When we saw “our” chair in Chester Cornett’s workroom, we gasped. We had ordered a rocking chair with seven slats and a seat of hickory bark splints, similar to the one we had purchased from Chester for a museum (fig. 37). The only similarity between what we had requested and what we got was that the chair crowding a comer of the room had rockers—four of them!

    This “strange” chair, as Chester called it, which he presented to us as ours, is made of solid oak with black walnut decorative trim at the top. The heads of its walnut...

  6. THREE Man of Constant Sorrow
    (pp. 80-112)

    “You know, I had it all planned and all; studied about it an’ studied about it. When I come home on the furlough, what I was gonna do was take my wife back with me when I went back to the service,” said Chester Cornett, who did not have a wife at the time. The year was 1944 and Chester was, as he sang in a song of his own composition two decades later, “a soldier boyee, a long, a long ways from my ole Kentucky mount’n home.”

    “I guess I was cravin’ a woman, if the truth is known,”...

  7. FOUR The Unique and the Antique
    (pp. 113-154)

    “The backs don’t look flared,” said Chester about two chairs made by Aaron (figs. 111 and 113).

    It was a hot afternoon in August 1967. Chester was sitting in the shade of his porch, taking a break from work in order to plan his next step in the manufacture of a chair. I interrupted his thoughts by handing him a stack of photographs of chairs I wanted him to examine. His task was to group the chairs according to the individuals who made them on the basis of the photographs alone, without my telling him until later who the craftsmen...

  8. FIVE Security, Seclusion and Self-Esteem
    (pp. 155-195)

    “I was real sick that winter,” said Chester. “I guess if a man gets to where he needs the money real bad, he has to give in to ‘em.”

    He was referring to the sale of a black walnut two-in-one rocking chair and a walnut sewing rocker (figs. 86 and 87), both made in late 1963 or early 1964 and selling for $30 and $15, respectively. That sum of money was just enough for Chester to pay his rent and electric bill.

    Chester had spent six weeks making the chairs. It was a cold winter day when he trudged through...

  9. SIX It Takes Half a Fool to Make Chairs
    (pp. 196-234)

    “I always liked repair work,” said Verge, who since 1915 had sometimes made chairs. “I’d rather repair ‘em than make ‘em new. You can make good money ‘cause the owner thinks it’s a good chair, and there’s not too much work in it.”

    A farmer and an occasional chairmaker, Verge had also been a musician but, according to his son Hascal, he put down his banjo when he took up fundamentalism. Tight-lipped and stem, he was not a man to joke about either religion or chairmaking, but Hascal, another man named Beechum, and the craftsman Aaron, all of whom worked...

  10. SEVEN The Beauty Part and the Lasting Part
    (pp. 235-264)

    “Buddy, when he threw one together, hit was together,” said Chester’s uncle Linden about his father.

    Chester agreed, noting that the chairs made by Cal and other kin “weren’t comfortable, but one thing about it, my grandfather’s chairs—if you could see one today—it’d be good an’ stout. They didn’t make for the beauty part, they made for the lastin’ part, he did.”

    Chester said about himself that he made “an awful good easy chair, restin’ chair an’ ever’thing, but I still say, I’m not as good as my grandfather in makin’ a chair that’ll last.” Cal’s chairs, he...

  11. Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 265-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-289)