At seventy-five, Jay has been carving for over fifty years. He studied under Murray Martin, one of the Folk School’s first carving instructors. “She was strict too...I would make six or so pieces until I got it right for her, and earned 35 cents for my first piece, a squirrel.” His first carvings were in apple; Jays says, “the texture carves better.” He also likes black walnut and butternut, “I like it when my knife is talking.” He first envisions a piece complete in his mind then makes several mock-ups, each concentrating on a different part of the animal he is carving. Finally all the pieces come together in his finished design.
Most any day, and at any time of the year, Jay can be found on his front porch carving. He has given numerous carving demonstrations throughout the region and demonstrated his techniques at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. His favorite subjects are rabbits and squirrels; at one time he kept eighteen squirrels around his home.
During World War II Jay added a serviceman’s dress cap to the heads of his carvings to help boost morale; he called that his “GI Joe Pattern.” Over the years Jay helped build Notley Reservoir, worked for Champion Paper and the State Forestry Commission, then the Department of Transportation for fifteen years, “but I always carved.”
His large sitting squirrel bookends are sculptural in size and are remarkably balanced in form and treatment. His squirrels on a log and rabbits “listening in two directions” have a freshness and purity that can only be captured with affection and through years of careful observation.
- Transcribed from John C. Campbell Folk School, The Brasstown Carvers (1990),
with text by Bill Biggers, photographs by Werner Kahn and Bill Biggers.
Used with permission of the John C. Campbell Folk School.