A variety of woodcarved animals by Hoyt Brown. Many of these carved figures are available in the Craft Shop (selection may vary).

Second generation Brasstown Carver, Hoyt Brown, and his wife Janice, stopped by the Craft Shop for a socially distant conversation with Tammy Elwell. Born in 1948 in Clay County, NC; he is the son of original Brasstown Carvers, Glenn and Hope Brown. Hoyt has been working with wood since 1972 and his award-winning pieces are collected nationally and internationally. Hoyt is also known as Pastor Hoyt Brown and has been a pastor for 54 years. Read the interview for insights into his work and processes, along with some Brasstown Carver’s stories.

Hoyt Brown

Hoyt & The Folk School

TE: What are your earliest memories of the Folk School?

HB: I guess my earliest memories of coming to the Folk School was coming with my mom and dad when they would bring their work in on Saturday Mornings.

TE: Have you taken classes at the Folk School?

HB: No.

TE: Have you taught classes through the Folk School or other places?

HB:  No. I have helped some young folks when they were working on a project for school. I’d invite them over and show them how I make a bowl.

TE: How long have you been carving figures for sale? How long have you had your work in the Craft Shop?

HB: I’ve been carving for 48 years, wood turning for 32 years; and that makes me an antique!

They used to have this thing here and it started with Murray Martin. Murray would see someone make a figure and then that’s what they made. You couldn’t encroach upon someone else’s figures.

They (the carver’s) made just about everything, so anything I brought over they wouldn’t let me in. When Doug came over, we went wide open, he’d buy just about anything I’d bring. Smart man. I sold a little bit before Doug ran the Craft Shop but when he started, that’s when I sold more of them (bowls & carvings). Mary Doornbos bought them too (Hoyt is referring to two previous Craft Shop Managers Douglas Vann Atchley & Mary Doornbos).

The Process/Inspiration

TE: What kind of things bring you inspiration and have you been able to spend time in the studio trying new things out?

HB: I believe the good Lord gives me the designs. Sometimes I wake up and something’s on my mind. With a design, I’ll grab a pencil and start sketching until I can get it close enough to make a block and put it on the bandsaw. I don’t know where else it comes from.

I think He gives me the designs and He for sure helps me with the carvings or I couldn’t do it.

TE: What is your favorite part of the process from concept to finished piece?

HB: When I pick up the knife and start bringing the shavings off, that’s what I love.

TE: Your carvings use natural wood, branches and twigs to display your carvings- what is your process for harvesting? When do you like to harvest?

HB: I get them while I’m out hiking or walking. I think sometimes I’ll see a piece of driftwood and I’ll pick it up and start thinking about what would look good sitting on top of it.

TE: What wood do you most like to work with and why?

HB: I like butternut, It’s my favorite!

TE: Do you harvest it yourself?

HB: No, mine comes out of Pennsylvania. For some reason, the northern butternut is softer than the southern and it’s easier to carve. And it’s very expensive, you wouldn’t believe it! Sometimes an order is $300-500, and you don’t get but a few pieces. You save every scrap of it!

I’ve tried cutting butternut trees myself but most of the time it’s too hard here.

TE: Do you have a favorite figure to carve?

HB: Right now, I do. I love carving a gobbler, struttin’, or gobblin’ on the limb, or gobblin’ on the stump.

TE: That’s right, you go turkey hunting every year, right?

HB: Yeah, I do!

TE: I asked Hoyt’s wife Janice how she felt about his carving.

JB: It doesn’t bother me a bit.

HB: Most every night she reads, and I carve. We don’t have a TV, so she reads, and I carve.

JB: He carves right in the living room.

HB: I have an apron that collects most of the shavings and what it doesn’t, I vacuum up.

Family & History & Brasstown Carvers

TE: What came first, carving or woodturning?

HB: Carving, my first figure was a little duck or a cardinal.

TE: How did you get into woodturning?

HB: Well, it was something I had always wanted to do, and we partially raised a young man and right after high school he took a woodturning class. He gave me some pointers to get me started and from there I went.

TE: How has your family influenced your carving?

HB: Well, in the beginning they turned me against it because we had to sand mom and dad’s carvings. Back then most of their carvings were out of cherry, black walnut, or apple, very hard woods!

I and 7 siblings said we’d never be wood carvers because we hated it for having to sand it. I think in my early 30s I learned to appreciate mom and dad’s carvin’; to learn to try to make a piece or two for myself. Once I got started, I couldn’t quit. I love it.

TE: Have you taught anyone in your family to carve? Is there any interest?

HB: The young man that we took in, David Hughes, he lived with us 10 years and he got me started woodturning and I got him started woodcarving, so we helped each other.

TE: Most of the Brasstown Carvers will either carve facial features and designs into their work with small gouges and tools, you like to make details using pyrography. How did you get into woodburning?

HB: I don’t know when I started. 

Janice: One day you just decided to try it.

HB: I think sometimes it makes the eyes, nose, and mouth stand out on a carving. To me, it helps it look like what it should look like. It makes the features more distinct.

TE: Would you share some of your carving memories of the Brasstown Carvers?

HB: I remember most all the original carvers at the Folk School plus some that came after, and they were all just local farmers that had a subsistent income with carving. They were some of the finest, most decent, most moral people that appreciated God’s handiwork and tried to do their best to make their carvings look decent.

TE: Were there any carver’s designs that you really liked?

HB: I respected all the carvers work, but I’d be doing my mother an injustice if I didn’t mention her. I think she was outstanding. She could put natural flow and curve into her carvings and even to this day I look at some of her carvings and try to draw inspiration for mine (Hoyt’s voice crackled with emotion while talking about his mother’s carvings). Don’t ask me anymore of those tearjerkers.

She’s got carvings around the world and a flying goose at the Smithsonian and I feel close to Hope when I’m carving.

TE: What advice would you give to beginning carvers?

HB: Well, I think it’s hard a lot of times, for one carver to teach another without working on their pieces.

My best advice would be to go to the John C. Campbell Folk School and take a class from someone who knows how to teach it, and you’d be amazed at what you could learn. You can pay me later for that advertising! But you know, there’re people who are natural teachers and that’s important, to find one of those people.

View More of Hoyt Brown’s Woodcarved & Woodturned Creations

Sleeping Cat

Cardinal

Fawn

Fox

Racoon on Base

Hog

Sassafras Bowl

Maple Burl Bowl

Maple Burl Bowl

A selection of Hoyt’s woodcarvings and turned bowls are available at the Craft Shop online. To see what is available for purchase currently, visit craftshop.folkschool.org.

You can also call the Craft Shop for more information at 828-837-2775 (ext. 125).

Spotlight: Hope & Glen Brown,
First-Generation Brasstown Carvers

Hoyt’s parents, Hope and Glen Brown, learned to carve from instructor Murrial Martin at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 1939 and 1940. They sold their carvings through the school’s woodcarving cooperative which became known as the Brasstown Carvers. They created their own patterns and made them available to the Folk School for other carvers. Glenn is known for his geese, guinea fowl and many other birds. Hope, responsible for the design of most of their patterns, designed and carved everything from cardinals to mockingbirds, dolphins to Dobermans, and fish to tigers. This photograph was taken from a booklet published by the John C. Campbell Folk School in 1990 titled The Brasstown Carvers with text by Bill Biggers, photographs by Werner Kahn and Bill Biggers.

These two Virgin Mary figures were carved in holly by Hope Caler Brown as part of a nativity scene. Murrial Martin, a teacher at the John C. Campbell Folk School, originally designed crèche figures to be made by different carvers so that each crèche set was a collaborative effort. Although figures were sometimes carved from different woods, Martin preferred holly. Holly was so light in color, she said that it looked like ivory. Unlike many carvers who worked from patterns or drawings provided by Martin, Brown designed her own patterns and shared them with other carvers. She lost many original patterns fire that destroyed school woodshop in 1944.

This hissing goose (back left) and large bird (front right) were carved out of buckeye by Glenn Brown and Hope Caler Brown, respectively. The large bird is marked “pattern,” indicating an original prototype. Glen Brown was known for his carvings of geese, guinea fowl, and other birds. He began carving in 1939 with John C. Campbell Folk School instructor Murrial Martin and sold his work through the Folk School’s woodcarving cooperative that became known as the Brasstown Carvers. He was joined a year later by his wife, Hope. Having raised eight children, Hope Brown has said that carving kept the family off welfare. In 1942 Glenn Brown earned $161 from carving, a substantial sum at the time. In 1944, when the school woodshop burned, the Browns lost their carving patterns. They moved temporarily to take up factory work, but later returned to Brasstown.

Tammy Elwell
About Tammy Elwell

Tammy Elwell, a Sales Associate in our Craft Shop, is from Oak Park, Minnesota. She has also been a Work/Study student and a Host at the Folk School. She enjoys knitting, basketry, bead making, book arts, and broom making. She also participated in our Thursday night woodcarving class. Her she is photographed by Darcy Holdorf with Chester the Squirrel carved by Richard Carter. Tammy’s passion and joy on the dance floor are also infectious!