D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives

Arval Woody, Chair Maker

Title  Arval Woody, Chair Maker
Creator Arval Woody
Alt. Creator Nora Woody
Alt Creator Walter Woody
Identifier hhttp://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/woody_arval_chair_maker/default_woody_arval.htm
Arval Woody ;  Nora Woody ; Walter Woody ; Arthur Woody ; Charles Woody ; Henry Woody ; James Marcus ; Richard Hollifield ; Appalachian Craft Shop ; Asheville, North Carolina ; Lucy Morgan ; Penland School of Crafts ; Spruce Pine, NC ; John F. Kennedy ; Roy Taylor ; furniture ; woodcraft ; chairs ; Terry Sanford ; Baxter Ollis ; Bea Hensley ; Mike Hensley ; David Williams ; Greg Williams ; Connie Stapleton ; Neal Brain Westveer ; James Hunt ; Mrs. Sam J. Huskins ; Mitchell County, NC ; C.E. Westveer ; Jim Strickland ; Fritz Young ; Bessie Woody ; Thornwell Orphanage ;
Woody, Arval,
Woody, Nora
Woody, Walter
Woody, Arthur
Woody, Henry
Young, Fritz
Marcus, James
Hollifield, Richard
Handicraft -- Appalachian region, Southern
Folk art--Appalachian Region, Southern.
Folk art--North Carolina.
Folk artists--North Carolina.
Handicraft--North Carolina.
Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild.
Woodwork--North Carolina
Arts and crafts movement -- Appalachian Region, Southern
Description A collection of materials that detail the life and times of master wood craftsman, Arval Woody, who lives in the Spruce Pine area of western North Carolina. The craft, mostly centered on the production of ladder-back chairs spans five generations of which Arval Woody is the last. Nominated as a North Carolina Living Treasure, October 25, 1995, the many accolades and awards found in the collection support that nomination and trace a life committed to craft of the highest quality.

Items in the collection are foldered by decade, starting with the 1950's. They have been left in the general order in which they were received from the family. The donation is comprised of 7 folders, by decade, 1 miscellaneous folder, 1 record book, and 1 photograph album. Some video, digital photographs, and an oral history were taken by D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections staff in November  2006, when the initial contact was made with Arval Woody. A later visit on December 21, 2006 yielded additional photographs of the operation of the wood-working shop, and these have been added to the collection.

Publisher D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
Contributor Harley Jolly, Professor Emeritus, Mars Hill College ; Helen Wykle, UNCA photographer
Date Date of objects : 1940's - 2006 ; Date digital 2006-11-06
Type Text ; Image ; Collection ; Realia

1 large manuscript box

Source RA2006.6.1
Language English ; eng
Relation Woody's Cottages, Spruce Pine, NC,  http://www.woodyscottages.com/aboutus.html ;  UNC Chapel Hill, Manuscript Department, Wilson Library, Inventory of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild Collection, 1993-1995, Collection Number 20372, http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/htm/20372.html. Collection contains interview material from  Arval and his wife, Nora Woody, the woodworkers James Marcus, Ricky Hollifield, and Richard Hollifield, as they were interviewed by Georgia Weir in May and June of 1994 in Spruce Pine, NC.  University of North Carolina at Wilmington, William Madison Randall Library, Oral Interview with Arval Woody by Sherman Hayes and Paul Zarbock, 11/05/2003, November 5, 2003.
Coverage 1950's - 2006 Spruce Pine, North Carolina ; Western North Carolina ;
Woody's Chair Shop
34 Dale Rd
Spruce Pine, NC , 28777-8536  
Phone: 828-765-9277
Rights Any display, publication, or public use must credit the D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, as the holding repository.
Donor Arval Woody
Acquisition  2006-12-12
Citation "Arval Woody, Chair Maker," , D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Processed by Special Collections staff, 2006 ; Helen Wykle
Context In an application for the Oldest Family Owned Business in Mitchell County the Woodys wrote the following:

History of Business From Startup to Present: Where/When/Founder(s), etc.

"We do not know where and when the first WOODY'S began making furniture and other wood products. The five generations we know about lived in Mitchell Co. The first that was personally known was Arval's grandfather, Arthur Woody. He was born in 1856 and died in 1952, a month shy of his 97th birthday. He was still making an occasional chair when he was 95. We know his father, Henry Woody, and grandfather Wyatte Woody were makers of chairs, wagons, and general farm- and household furniture. None of these three generations had a formal business - they were simply known as being wood­workers; mainly ladderback chairs. We do know that Arthur shipped chairs to many parts of the country. His son, Charlie Woody, worked with his father until his death in 1943. Another son, Martin Woody, worked with his father to learn the trade, then was with the builders of the railway through this area with a particular expertise of building trestles and tunnels. He then operated his own wood shop, with a strong preference for making chairs, until well into his 80's. 

The present shop [in Spruce Pine, N.C.] was built in 1946 by brothers Arval and Walter Woody. Each had been in service in WWII, and were considering career choices. Arval was teaching agriculture to a veteran's group under the GI bill. Walter was training under the Gl bill for a profession in mechanics. They built the building that is the site of today's WOODY'S CHAIR SHOP. Arval operated a general store and service station, while continuing to teach. Both brothers then decided they wanted to try chair making. They started on very small scale with a roped off corner of the store as a showroom, working at building chairs part time and continuing their other jobs. Very gradually the chair-making became their sole business. The general store and service station were gradually phased out as they began to get enough business to support themselves through the woodworking.

Walter Woody retired as of January 1,1980. Arval's vife, Nora, purchased his partnership interest. Arval Woody and Nora Woody [deceased 2006] now operate the business as a partnership.

The present shop is the only one that can be documented as to the date it was begun. The ancestor's just made their chairs and other wood pieces, and became known for this work, as did a majority of other business people during these years."

*In a quarto-fold flyer produced by the workshop in the 1950's, Arval and his wife Nora wrote a brief history of the shop, entitled: "History of Woody Chairs." An excerpt follows:


Woody's Chair Shop is now owned and operated by Arval J. Woody and Walter T. Woody [now deceased]. This work has been carried on by members of our family for about 150 years and we are the fifth generation craftsmen to engage in it. Our chairs are made by an old Early American principle. There are no nails or glue used in the main structure. The chair posts are made from wood that is air dried only. The backs, or ladders, and rounds are thoroughly dried. The chairs are then driven together tightly; the rounds interlocking; and as the posts dry they shrink onto the rounds; clamping them tighter and tighter. Before the chairs are put together each piece is finished while spinning in a lathe. In this way we can hand rub each piece of wood to the equivalent of several years of ordinary waxing and polishing. With our oil finish the true natural beauty of the wood will show. You need not be horrified if someone puts a foot on one of the rounds or accidentally overturns a chair. This finish will take it without chipping and scratching. Just wax off all scuff marks."

Biography Arval Woody was born near Spruce Pine, NC on September 12, 1920. He was one of seven children -- five brothers and two sisters. Arval was the youngest of the boys. His family was in the lumber business, particularly the manufacture of cross-ties for the railway and his father also ran a general store in Spruce Pine. Arval comes from a family of chair-makers. His grandfather, Arthur Woody was an influence on his work and Authur Woody learned his craft from his father Henry Woody and Henry learned from his father, White Woody. According to the local family lore, the name "Woody" was given to the family because they were integrally involved in wood-craft. In the oral history taken by Sherman Hayes in 2003 for the craft files at UNC Wilmington, Arval notes that he has been told that the family name is possibly "Anderson." A picture of the the Woody furniture shop run by Arval's grandfather, which stood not far from the current shop, shows a rambling building with a water-wheel that Arval noted was used to power tools used in the furniture-making and wood-craft business.

Arval Woody's early work included a job as a caddy for a local golf-course. He then turned to construction work and worked briefly in Spartanburg, helping to build Camp Cross, a military camp. As WWII progressed, he was drafted and went to join the forces in Europe. While at Cambridge, England he was trained at Cambridge University on how to measure lumber and other associated tasks. While in Germany at the end of the war, he constructed bridges from lumber from the Black Forest. At the end of the War he returned to Spruce Pine where he was hired as a teacher, a job he held for seven years. Though he had no college degree, the time at Cambridge and his basic skills qualified him for the position. While he taught, he constructed the current shop to serve as a grocery and wood-working shop. His sister ran the grocery and his brother, the craft shop. According to Arval, he and his brothers produced some 3000 unfinished and unseated chairs a year in the shop, in maple, oak, cherry, walnut, and ash harvested from the forests of the area. In the some 40 years that he has been producing chairs, Arval has had a back-log of orders. His customers represent most of the States and abroad. He became one of the first members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, a prestigious membership that only allows the most consummate artisans into the Guild.

When Arval's brothers retired he continued to produce chairs, but also turned to producing small wooden crafts, bowls, chop boards, book-marks and other wood products, including animal caskets. To do this he used his wood waste, the end pieces and waste wood from the chair-making operation. The craft of chair-making in the family used no nails or glue. All joins were made using the natural properties of the wood, as it dries and strengthens. The chair rounds even today are a tight fit. Also, today, Woody's Chair Shop crafts the entire chair. The seats are created with a new paper product, Craftcore, from Grand Rapids, Michigan and woven into seats by local women in the Spruce Pine area.

Until her death in November 2006, Arval's wife, Nora,  managed the office of the Chair Shop. The volume of business was great and filling orders quickly was often a challenge. The chairs, however, were worth the wait. The quality and reputation of Woody's chairs is nationally known. In 1952 through a connection with Terry Sanford, then the Governor of North Carolina, Woody's chairs went to the White House. Arval was asked by Sanford to craft. chairs for the John F. Kennedy children, Caroline and John, Jr.. These beautiful children's chairs were a part of the Kennedy family furniture during their last years in the White House.

Arval Woody's work has been exhibited in the American Craft Museum in New York and in the Smithsonian in Washington.  It is not only the objects of craft that Arval has contributed. The records of his life, included in this collection, detail a life-time as a teacher and mentor to others who share a love of wood and a deep responsibility to civic contribution. The evidence of Arval's careful teaching can be found in wood crafts throughout western North Carolina and in the lives of many of the students who worked with him or benefited from his training. Those who know him continue to speak of his wood mastery with some awe and enormous respect.

  Folder 1 - 1950's
  Folder 2 -1960's
  Folder 3 - 1970's
  Folder 4 - 1980's
  Folder 5 - 1990's
  Folder 6 - 2000's
  Folder 7 -  Oral History and Video Interview, completed by Ramsey Library staff
  Folder 8 - Misc. Items and Shop Records
  Folder 9 -Photographs and Photograph Album
  Folder 10 - Photographs, tape recording, completed by D.H. Ramsey Library staff

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