The People:
Ruth Fleming Hawkins

Ruth Fleming Hawkins

Ruth is nationally recognized for her exquisite angel and child figures which possess a unique sweetness reflected in the faces of each finely carved piece; delicacy, softness and a restrained detail exemplify her bas-relief work. Her work is featured in the books of E.J. Tangerman, an international authority on the art of carving. “When I first started carving, two men said ‘that’s pretty good carving for a woman’.”

Born on Cherry Road near Hayesville, North Carolina, Ruth has been carving since she was twenty; her friends, Wallace and Bea Massey brought her a napkin ring carved at the Folk School. Almost immediately she began duplicating the form; her next pieces were a hen and rooster she sold for twenty cents apiece. “I have been carving ever since...I’ve carved birds, a horse or two, and cats for years.” Later she started carving cherubs and Christmas tree ornaments that range from children on sleds, youngsters carrying Christmas trees, to angels. Her preferred wood is holly.

One outstanding work is a rabbit in a woodland setting carved on the side of a shotgun stock; three bobwhites stand in relief on the other side. “I bought that shotgun for Cecil [Ruth’s husband] in 1941.”

Ruth’s work is in great demand; she has over seventy carvings currently on backorder, and she makes all her own patterns, creating new ones each year. Friends and neighbors bring her Christmas cards for inspiration; one of her current additions is a flying angel with trumpet. Ruth begins carving soon after breakfast just after the break of morning light, and most any day will find her at the sunny window seat in her dining room checking over one of her carvings with a magnifying glass to see if the detail is correct. “I work forever on a piece...even after I’ve sanded a piece I’ll go back and recarve it until I’m satisfied.”

- 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.