200+ Years of Chairs
The Woody family tradition of chair-making started with Wyatt Woody whose family roots dated to the Revolutionary War. In 1797, Wyatt moved to the Appalachians, settled in what is now Mitchell County and began carving an existence from the great deciduous forests of early America.
Craftsman like Wyatt Woody were able to transform the area’s resources into commodities that could be traded for necessities for their families. Without the availability of glue or metal fasteners, Wyatt made hand-crafted chairs from green hardwoods. They were called “split-backs” or “mule-eared” chairs.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Martin Woody continued supporting his family by turning out hand-made chairs as the region began to evolve into a community. Very little in the process had changed as Martin passed the business on to Arthur Woody, the third generation of Woody chair-makers. By this time an infrastructure for the local mountain communities had taken root. Influenced by the changing world around him, Arthur was responsible for the first departure from the original colonial chair design.
As wilderness gave way to farmland, Arthur moved to the Grassy Creek region of Mitchell County. He built a water-powered grist mill that he quickly adapted to turn a wood lathe. This single innovation allowed him to turn out longer chair posts in a shorter amount of time and led to the development of what is now known as the straight, ladder-back chair, exemplified in our current design.
True to form, Arthur passed his craft on to his son Charles, who made both “mule-eared” and straight back chairs. In 1905, the construction of the Clinchfield Railroad dynamically altered the chair trade, opening markets unimagined by Wyatt four generations earlier.
In 1946, Charles’ nephews inherited the family business and built the chair shop we know today, which is just a stone’s throw from the original site. Chairs crafted in this shop have earned international recognition and can be found in the Smithsonian Institution, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library as well as the homes of numerous governors, senators and even a member of Great Britain’s Parliament. In 1993, Arval Woody was named a North Carolina Living Treasure. As the only remaining family member of his generation of craftsmen, he was honored to accept on behalf of all.
Woody’s Chair Shop continues producing chairs to this very day, providing a livelihood for the sixth and seventh generations of this chair-making family. The world may have changed, but very little has changed in the way these American treasures are crafted. Perhaps the entire process can best be summed up in the words of Arval Woody, “We get the trees in the forest, and when we finish it up, it’s in the living room.”