Appalachia crafts

Early Carvings from Brasstown

Today’s post was written by Chitter.

carved swan

Every now and then I get a feeling that there is a Brasstown Carvers’ carving out there waiting on me to find it and bring it home. Generally when I get a feeling a quick look on Etsy or Ebay will turn up a carving for me.

A couple of weeks ago I found the charming swan in the photo above. It was carved by Hayden Hensley who was one of the first Brasstown Carvers.

The carving group was created in the early 1930s by Olive Dame Campbell at the Folk School.

Those first carvings are my favorite. They have a very distinct look. The subjects carved in those days don’t seem to be carved as often today. And at that time the carvings were all finished on site and dipped in a product called Deft.

Once it was known Deft was harmful they discontinued its use on the carvings. But the ones that were dipped in Deft take on a smooth buttery look that really stands out even though there is no shine.

About three years ago my feeling led me to the smaller swan above. A very unique piece because of the bent neck. The swan was carved from a single piece of wood, in other words it took a very talented carver to create it. It was also carved by Hayden Hensley.

I love to think about Hayden carving the actually pieces, but also who touched them and where they traveled since they first left Brasstown so long ago. Interestingly I found both pieces in Delaware.

Over the years I’ve developed a great fondness for carvings made by Brasstown Carvers—from past and present carvers.

Bringing the old carvings back to their birth place gives me great joy.


Last night’s video: Talking With Granny About Life in Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 10:49 pm

    The swan carvings are beautiful. Such a sweet story about them and how you brought them back to their birth place giving you so much joy. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Patti Brockwell
    February 4, 2022 at 10:31 pm

    These swans are gorgeous in their simplicity and unique finish! I did a quick search of Brasstown carvings and found wonderful photos of the carver and his wife and more of their life story. It was so touching. There are a handful of similar Brasstown carvings on eBay right now, and they are listed for up to $800! These swans are such a prized find, for sure! Now I’ll know to keep an eye out for them around my area.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    It is beautiful!

  • Reply
    Barbara Parker
    February 4, 2022 at 4:40 pm

    I enjoyed today’s pictures and article along with the comments. I have a beautiful carved wooden duck somewhere in my stash. I thought it was with the two mallard ducks but evidently it has flown to a hiding place. The Mallards are ceramic. I’ll keep looking for that pretty duck. It’s around here somewhere! Thanks for sparking my interests again!

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    February 4, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    So Beautiful! I also enjoyed last night’s video with Granny. I always love hearing about the wonderful food the old cooks knew how to fix. And biscuits and cornbread fixed so many different ways. All was good. My favorite has and always will be cornbread. I think I could eat it everyday!!

  • Reply
    Kevin Knight
    February 4, 2022 at 2:25 pm

    Thru an artist’s eye, Thanx Chitter.!

  • Reply
    Robin Fesmire
    February 4, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    It warms my heart to see the deep appreciation for heritage in all your family. Carving is so exemplary of the way people of Appalachia are gifted in making something extraordinary out of very little. Whether it’s a crocheted sweater, creating a musical instrument, baking an apple stack cake, making jewelry from stones from the river, carving a piece of wood, decorating with greenery you gathered from the wild, or writing a song, magic happens when you put your heart into creating something wonderful that didn’t exist before. There is potential all around us, if only we have the heart to see it.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you…

  • Reply
    Jenny Young
    February 4, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    Beautiful! It would be fun to see your collection.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    OHHHH. Breathtaking. “Bringing them home …” warms my heart. What a wonderful collection!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 4, 2022 at 11:01 am

    The part of Katies post I find most interesting is “it was known Deft was harmful”. I know a little bit (a little bit in this instance means nearly nothing) about wood finishes but would like to learn more. What is the Deft mentioned in the post? I know that nitrocellulose lacquer can be explosive in certain situations and also the vapors it emits while it is drying can be harmful. Once dry it is perfectly safe. Both Gibson and Fender use it on their acoustic guitars with no ill effects.

    • Reply
      February 4, 2022 at 6:49 pm

      Ed-I only know what I’ve heard from others. Deft was in a big barrel and they dipped the carvings into it. At some point they found out it was carcinogenic and quit using it. In those days I’m sure it was easier to move to a different finish than invest in the equipment to finish the carvings in a safer manner.

    • Reply
      February 6, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      Although the formulation has probably changed, PPG still makes a Deft wood finish.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 4, 2022 at 10:13 am

    Well, as a forester I am a wood kinda guy. To me those carvings just ask to be handled as well as looked at. Those smooth curves just look like they need touched to fill out the beauty. Nothing beats hand crafted because it has heart behind it and in it.

    I could see those carvings being family heirlooms with the ties you all have to the area and to the JCCFS in your family history. Maybe you should think about coding each piece on the bottom along with the carver’s name (or using a picture) and write up a document with the story of that piece, such as finding them out of state through Etsey. I have written up the story of our old furniture pieces such as the Gibson ice box of my Grandma’s that came from the store in a long-disappeared mining camp. I am somewhat afraid the kids won’t care much and they really can’t like I do. There was almost always gingerbread or fried apple pies or cookies under the cake cover on top of the icebox.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 10:05 am

    It is wonderful to see young people value the workmanship put into articles fashioned by hand. I’m a lot older and have pieces of clay that were formed into crocks, pitchers, churns, flower pots and jugs by my Father and my Great-grandfather. I even have a Cat that my Aunt made when she was 14 and gave to her older Sister when she married my Father. They are priceless to me:)
    Loved the video with Granny!!! Those outstanding cooks were priceless too. I always describe my Parents and ancestors as being Survivors – they were strong in faith, and had knowledge to plant and preserve food, knew medicinal plants in the forest and they had gumption. One of my dear Aunts taught me how to crochet and the Shell Stitch. Many years later I taught a little girl the Shell Stitch, and now she is finishing up her junior year in college. She wants to be a math teacher and plays the violin and piano, but she still loves to crochet and make gifts of her projects to friends and family.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    February 4, 2022 at 9:58 am


  • Reply
    Margie G
    February 4, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Chitter, those swan carvings are amazingly beautiful and YOURE fortunate to have found them. If you think about art as the pursuit of collecting beautiful beautifully aesthetic pieces. Today art is harsh, somewhat ugly and industrial. Look at new buildings for instance. There’s not anything pretty about them. It’s almost like ART HAS DIED… give me the arts and crafts of in the style of Art Deco and 20s or 30’s any day compared to ugly trash of now.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    February 4, 2022 at 9:13 am

    Those carvings are beautiful.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    February 4, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Wow! Chitter! That’s awesome! Awesome that you found those beautiful carvings so far away and returned them to their birthplace, but more than that, that you appreciate them. I’ve wondered sometimes about how many of those items from around the world are discarded by someone who didn’t understand their precious value. I am keeping a lookout for hand-carved wooden dolls. Since I’ve become an apple doll maker I now want to learn to carve wood. I’ve just had other things get in the way recently and haven’t tried yet. But that’s high on my list. I’m not expecting to be Brasstown quality but want to see what I can do. Happy Hunting!
    I am so proud to know that you appreciate the Brasstown carvers and have an eye for spotting their work and an interest in preserving the pieces. The world needs a lot more young people like you.

    • Reply
      Sheryl Paul
      February 4, 2022 at 11:46 am

      They are elegant do lifelike. I would be proud to own one

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    February 4, 2022 at 8:38 am

    I may have one here carved by a family member way back…..will let yo know..

  • Reply
    Kim Smith
    February 4, 2022 at 8:29 am

    I love folk art and I had no idea these even existed. Thank you so much for sharing! Also, are they signed or marked in any way? I’m always out antiquing and will be on the lookout for these.

    • Reply
      February 4, 2022 at 11:02 am

      Kim-thank you! They are usually marked with the carver’s initials on the bottom 🙂

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 8:12 am

    Very nice carvings – I love the simplicity of them yet they are so elegant. Also love the smooth buttery non-shiny finish. Non-shiny, matte finishes are my favorite. It is so neat you are collecting art from your region. Thanks Chitter for sharing.

  • Reply
    Martha D Justice
    February 4, 2022 at 7:44 am

    This article about carvings sparked an investigation for me. Recently my husband was gifted a wooden carving of a Least Bittern. I never looked at the bottom of the stand it was on until I saw your article, I figured it was mass produced by some company. To my surprise it was actually carved by someone possibly from Tryon, NC. Do you know of any carvers from there?

    • Reply
      February 4, 2022 at 11:02 am

      Martha-we’re not familiar with any carvers from Tyron but I’m sure there are some there 🙂 Hopefully someone with more information will chime in.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2022 at 7:07 am

    It is so nice to see that beautiful handiwork still appreciated. I frequent thrift and antique shops in my spare rime, and it sometimes bothers me to see what families donate and get rid of when their parents pass on. I have often seen hand carvings, and actually did purchase long ago a Mallard duck. No idea of its history nor even where it ended up. Perhaps it fell victim to one of my granddaughter’s cleaning sprees.
    While your mom is preserving and celebrating history, you are saving priceless relics from the past. We have our own Tamarack on I-77 which is jam packed with items made by our local artesians.

  • Reply
    Kathy Gautier
    February 4, 2022 at 7:04 am

    Chitter, I loved seeing your collection pieces. They are beautiful. I also love hand carved pieces and enjoy learning about new carvers. Thanks for the images and the information about the Brasstown Carvers.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 4, 2022 at 6:22 am

    They are beautiful, Chitter! There is such elegance in the Brasstown Carvings that I do not have the works to describe. Any time I’m in your room I am drawn to all the carvings you have collected. They are all different, yet they all have that same elegance and feeling about them!
    Think about doing more posts to show the rest of your collection!

  • Reply
    donna sue
    February 4, 2022 at 6:01 am

    I enjoyed this well written post! Thank you for giving the details about carvings. I have small collections of various old things, but carvings are something I do not have a collection of. I have always admired the work someone has put into carvings items, and I have enjoyed looking at many plain creations, and some very intricate ones. You have made me look at this art form in a new light now, though. I had never thought about carvings, or any pieces of art for that matter, coming from a specific geographical place like the Brasstown Carvers Group. Those swan carvings are beautiful! I think it is exciting that you found them in a different state, and brought them back to Brasstown!! Finding pieces to add to a collection you have started is addicting! The thrill of finding something is so satisfying. Just think of all the pieces out there waiting to call your name over the years ahead. This will be a wonderful collection to hand down to your children. Was Deft used to preserve the wood for a long time, or to give the finished product that buttery, smooth look? When I have seen carved pieces in museums that are centuries old, I have wondered what has kept them “in shape” for all those years, instead of deteriorating beyond recognition. Was it the way they were stored? Or what area they were kept in, like a dry desert such as pyramids in the Middle East? Thank you for this guest post. I look forward to more from Chitter, and I hope she lets us see any future additions to her collection of carvings she stumbles across!

    Donna. : )

    • Reply
      February 4, 2022 at 7:35 am

      Donna-the deft was used to seal and protect the wood. You don’t need to store them in a real arid climate, but of course you wouldn’t want them exposed to moisture or dampness if you can help it 🙂

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