Mark Newberry

Chair Making

Mark Newberry

Recipient Information

Location

Red Boiling Springs (Macon County), Tennessee

Medium

Chair Making

Year of Award

2020

Grant or Fellowship

Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship

Grant Amount

$9,000

Artist Biography

Mark Newberry from Macon County, Tennessee makes truly traditional Appalachian chairs. His family has been making chairs since 1840 using the same materials, patterns, and construction techniques from one generation to the next. Now the fifth generation of chair makers, Newberry has participated in the family’s process since childhood, at first accompanying his father and grandfather into the woods in search of a hickory tree and to shave the bark for weaving chairs. Although they now utilize modern tools and make larger chairs to fit modern sizes, “the style of lean posts, handwoven hickory bark bottoms and bent backs are the same traditional style as was used in the 19th Century,” says Newberry. He and his family make rockers, dining chairs, high-chairs, corner chairs and crooked back chairs.

Chair making is tied to the Newberry history of farming and a larger “farmer craftsman” tradition. They used chairs to supplement the income from the farm. Eventually, as tobacco farming became unsustainable, the Newberrys made the switch to timber milling to continue the chair making tradition in addition to selling lumber from their property. They have struggled for years to preserve these skills and in 2008, through a Fund for Folk Culture grant, they were able to add a new shop building to their operation. Their chairs were exhibited in South Arts’ (then the Southern Arts Federation) exhibit Tradition/Innovation: Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art. Newberry and Sons received the Tennessee Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award.

With this award, Newberry will work with chair makers from the Appalachian region and abroad in order to learn new techniques in chair making. He would also like to teach others these skills that he and his family want to preserve for future generations.