Restoring an Appalachian tradition

The loss of the American chestnut meant the loss of an entire way of life — especially here in the Southern Appalachians. “The resident in the heart of the tree’s historic range could go through life with the chestnut, from cradle to casket,” notes Regional Science Coordinator Paul Sisco of The American Chestnut Foundation.

The almost inexhaustible supply of wood from these magnificent trees provided the raw material for a wide range of products. Now, Grovewood Gallery and The American Chestnut Foundation celebrate the tree’s past, present and future in a monthlong exhibit and sale titled “Fine Wood Works of American Chestnut: Restoring an Appalachian Tradition.”

The two dozen artists represented are a mix of Grovewood regulars, skilled artisans from the Eastern band of the Cherokee, and assorted other woodworkers from across the region.

Gabe Aucott is one of them. Besides creating fine furniture using reclaimed chestnut wood, his hands have also been involved in restoration efforts; while attending Warren Wilson College a couple of years ago, Aucott helped plant and maintain chestnut seedlings in the college nursery.

The artist describes his work as a “balance between classic and modern design that also draws on the subtle curves of Japanese architecture.” His contributions to the exhibit are a bedside stand with glass doors and a hall table.

Besides fine furniture, the exhibit also features sculpture, crafts, musical instruments and intricate woodturnings.

For his part, Aucott seems to be as excited about restoring the American chestnut as he is about his own work. “This species left a big hole in the forest ecosystem,” he notes. “It’s been a privilege to be part of such a passionate group of people.”

One of those passionate folks is foundation Executive Director Marshal Case, who explains: “What started out a dream is closely becoming a reality. It is a labor-intensive process, very long-term in scope, but we hope to begin setting out final test trees in large forest plots around 2006 or 2007.”

Aucott, meanwhile, says his ultimate dream is to someday stand next to a 20- or 30-year-old American chestnut tree.

“Fine Woodworks of American Chestnut — Restoring an Appalachian Tradition” shows at the Grovewood Gallery (at 111 Grovewood Road, adjacent to the Grove Park Inn) through Wednesday, April 3. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 253-7651 or visit www.grovewood.com.

This exhibit is being mounted with support from The National Forest Foundation and the James G.K. McClure Educational and Development Fund.

And for folks interested in the tree’s use as food, a related event at the gallery on Saturday, March 22, 1-3 p.m., will offer a chance to sample assorted chestnut dishes prepared by Carmaleta Monteith of the North American Indian Women Association, Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Estate staffers, members of the WNC Culinary Association, and Laurey’s Catering.

— Sammy Cox

To learn more about The American Chestnut Foundation, visit www.acf.org, or contact Phil Pritchard (281-0047; e-mail: Asheville@acf.org).

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