Oh the joys of stumbling upon a Chair Shop on your first day in a new city!
Dave and I were ready to get out of town last summer so we arrived at Arrowmont as soon as we possibly could to explore a little bit before the class. We unpacked in our cozy rooms and went for a drive. And what to our wondering eyes did appear but a cinderblock building on the Arts & Crafts Loop with the words “Chair Shop” on its rear.
Randy Ogle is a 4th generation chair maker and Gatlinburg native…and he is quite a character. We told him we were chair caners and he looked at us sideways and said something like, “you people are crazy, I’m not sure I have time to talk to you.” And then proceeded to talk to us for two hours. We got to go behind the scenes to see the wood shop and storage room, and even play a little guitar. Turns out, he hosts a local Friday night jam session every week. Love this guy.
Randy has that way of sliding in a joke with deadpan expression, a clever zinger that takes you a minute to catch on to, and whatever you were planning to say next gets lost amidst the amusing cloud of “you got me.” He told us “my daddy always said I was smart enough to go into woodworking, but not smart enough to know when to quit.” Randy not only makes chairs but also gorgeous handmade guitars, cutting boards, tables, and 3-legged milk stools…I really love the milk stools.
He is a wealth of knowledge about local chair history and local chair weaving history (important distinction). He told us about processing white oak splits, bark harvesting, corn shuck weaving and the families who wove all the fantastic chairs at Arrowmont. He had a few of them hanging around in his shop, covered in a half inch of dust, like glorious chair shaped stalactites.
An amusing aside, it turned out that one of our students in the 2019 class was a teacher in public schools and Randy was one of her students. When we mentioned him to Ruth, she said, “God, he looks so OLD!” and then rolled her eyes and hung her head low with the association and its obvious reflection on her own age. Gatlinburg does not lack in characters.
We are thrilled to be partnering with Randy for our Legacy class for Appalachian Educators this summer. We have commissioned him to make footstools for our students, which can be woven with splint reed, dyed reed, shaker tape, or rush. Students will also weave a hand-woven cane chair. We are planning a field trip to Randy’s shop, maybe for the Friday Night Guitar Jam?
Sign up by April 1, 2020! You get free chair, free stool, materials to weave, instruction, room and board, and a stipend. The class is July 12-18, 2020.
Get in touch with Randy at 865 436-7413 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find him on the Arts & Crafts Loop at
The Chair Shop
830 Cantrell Cir
Gatlinburg, TN. 37738