As I’ve trekked around, I like to take in local culture whenever possible. Partaking of local culture naturally means being exposed to local art. The Appalachian region has a history rich in art. In my travels, I’ve had the good fortune of being able to drop into many artisan centers, shops, and festivals to see what local artisans are crafting.
One of the many expressions of Appalachian art that has always fascinated me is wood carving. Wood carving is an artistic expression that has been around as long as people have been around. Looking back through history, wood carvings are found in everything from churches to homes to markets. How often have you visited an old cathedral or home and marveled at the intricate wood carvings?
In Appalachia, wood carving often took a simpler form. Parents would often put steel to wood and carve toys for their children, or utensils for their homes. Growing up, my grandfather would sit under a tree and “whittle” all day. Sometimes he’d carve shapes or figures, sometimes he’d while away the hours carving nothing, simply passing the time. That’s whittling. Wood carving means taking a blank piece of wood and carving figures with varying degrees of intricacy.
Wood carving is experiencing something of a revival in the South. As younger people have picked up on the traditional art methods of previous generations, wood carving has been one of them. I’ve met several younger artisans around the Blue Ridge region who are carving (sometimes out of stone as well) perpetuating this ancient tradition.
Imagine my surprise and excitement when I discovered one such artist (really, a whole family of them) living right here in the Upstate of South Carolina. Chloe Long is the owner and artisan behind Forest Floor Carvings. Chloe practices her craft in Spartanburg county, along with her mother and father who operate Olde World Carvings. The Long family have been wood carving for over 30 years.
I met with Chloe at Little River Coffee Bar in downtown Spartanburg on a recent evening and spent some time talking with her about her craft. The first thing I noticed was how impassioned she is about wood carving. She explained that, of her siblings, she is the wood carving torchbearer. She’s been wood carving since she was allowed to hold a knife. As you can see from the pics of her work, she’s quite capable. She primarily sells her work through her Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/forestfloorcarvings) and on the craft festival circuit.
Chloe explained that she often carves from dawn to dusk, enduring the summer heat inside her family’s shop to ensure her customers have access to her carvings. When the Fall festival season rolls around, Chloe routinely get ups in the early morning hours and drives to North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia to set up shop. During the busy Christmas season she often carves 7 days each week, sun up to sundown. I asked her how someone her age could be so singularly dedicated to her craft. She wryly and without hesitation responded, “Because I love doing it.”
Chloe Long is keenly aware of the tradition she’s perpetuating with Forest Floor Carvings. Not only is it a family tradition, but it is a tradition that dates back in our our region many hundreds of years. Because of this, I salute the Long family of woodcarvers as heroes. They are keeping an ancient Appalachian art form alive and flourishing here in the Upstate. And with Chloe Long at the helm, this time honored tradition is in very capable hands.
Roger Upton is a native of the upstate of South Carolina. He has a lifelong love of nature and of hiking. He has section hiked most of the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail, and has hiked in the Rocky Mountains, Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands of South Dakota, and more.