Ray Mann (1904-1999) was born in Buncombe County, near Asheville, and moved to Clay County in 1908. His father-in-law was Brasstown carver Elisha Allen Hall, brother of John and Ben Hall, and Jack Hall’s uncle. “I remember the first car that came to Hayesville.” Ray is known for his sheep and oxen carvings; the first piece Ray carved was a lamb, and when asked what he was paid for it, his response with a gentle smile was “not much.” In his youth he tended sheep which continued for many years and accounts for his interest in sheep and lambs for subject matter.
Ray has worked in wood most of his life, from building homes and chicken houses to building his own place, a testament to the independence and industrious spirit found in the people of the region. Ray learned to carve under Murray Martin with Jack Hall. “Jack could make a horse look like it was alive, he was the best ever.” Ray prefers working in cherry, walnut and buckeye and likes to carve in his wood shop best; he has carved dogs, cows, oxen, mad mules and braying donkeys, “I made lots of those...every once in a while I carve an ox sled and rider with two oxen pulling it.”
He married when he was eighteen in 1922 and started carving in the thirties. “We had four children who couldn’t be beat and we’ve had a good life...I think a lot about the Folk School; it means a lot to me, and Mrs. Campbell was a live wire...she built the foundation.” Ray always gives the Folk School carvings for various fund raising auctions. Ray says, “Carving comes in handy for me... I can’t just sit there; I need something to do.”
- 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.