Long before woodworker Steve Noggle took the first spin on his lathe, the former timber cruiser spent his days in the Pacific Northwest working alongside the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. But in 1980, following the death of his grandmother, Noggle returned to Morganton, where he purchased the family property and eventually transformed part of the space into his studio.
Another 21 years passed, however, before the craftsman discovered the art of wood turning. In 2001, happenstance led him to a demonstration inside a wood shop. Captivated by the process, he purchased a cheap lathe and set of tools that day.
Today, Noggle is the featured maker at the 71st annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, which runs Friday-Sunday, Oct. 19-21, at the U.S. Cellular Center. As is the case with each year’s featured maker, Noggle was selected by the Fair Committee of the Guild.
“We literally go through a few hundred images that are submitted to choose one that exemplifies the mastery of skills that our members are known for,” explains committee member and maker Ruthie Cohen. “Steve’s work illustrates a seasoned skill set of wood turning. His attention to detail balances well with his commitment to finishing his pieces for handling.”
Fellow committee member and maker Shirl Parmentier echoes Cohen’s observations, noting the immediate appeal of Noggle’s work. “I saw a beautiful piece of a completely raw material and exquisite craftsmanship,” she says. “The natural edging on the bowl and the feet on the bottom were executed perfectly to show the beauty of the wood.”
Noggle, who continues to operate out of his family property in Morganton, creates both decorative and functional pieces. His studio, a Depression-era clapboard building, was originally used as his grandparents’ produce store. These days, the site is filled with cuts of oak, cherry, sycamore, poplar, hickory and maple.
Along with Noggle, more than 170 makers will exhibit at the fair, including fellow regional woodworkers Brian Brace, Jason Green, Ray Jones, Mark Gardner, Chris Kamm, Joe Hunnicutt and David Scott.
The weekendlong event, which drew more than 7,500 visitors last October, will also feature a number of demonstrations. From doll making to tartan weaving and from silk painting to raku glazing, visitors will have the chance to observe artists at work.
Meanwhile, outside the U.S. Cellular Center, exhibitions will continue with the North Carolina Artist-Blacksmiths Association. “We really want to educate people on how long it actually takes to forge and hammer these items,” says Hannah Barry, director of marketing for the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
Education, Barry continues, is a major priority at this year’s fair. She sees the demonstrations as a nod to the event’s earliest days, when makers would have set up shop as opposed to booths.
Along with observing makers, guests will also have an opportunity to try out their pottery skills with an interactive workshop led by The Village Potters. “So much about craft is connecting people back to this kind of creative medium using raw materials,” Barry says.
In addition to educating fairgoers, Barry notes the guild’s own ongoing research into the industry’s past. The group is seeking to learn when the craft focus began shifting away from functional use and toward more decorative designs. This movement, Barry points out, is slowly circling back around. Millennial makers, she says, show a greater interest in functional pieces.
“One could say the younger generation is more of a mobile generation, so the things that they’re going to build and make are going to be things they’ll actually use as opposed to acquiring stuff to place in their house,” Barry explains.
No matter the intention, medium or age, what all makers have in common, says Noggle, is a dedication to their craft. The self-taught wood turner remembers that his own development came through simple repetition. “I basically did my thing over and over again until I got better and better at it,” he says.
Over the last 17 years, Noggle adds, his fascination with the process hasn’t wavered. “I always tell people what I really love [about woodturning] is that you can cut a chunk out of a log in the morning and have a bowl the same day,” he says.
Of course, there’s more to the overall production, Noggle notes, including sanding and finishing. But at the very least, the essential transformation can be witnessed and achieved in a single day’s turn. “That’s what I really like about the whole thing,” he says. “The freedom to make those forms from the natural materials that we have in our woods.”
WHAT: The 71st annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St. southernhighlandguild.org
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $8 general admission/free for children 12 and younger