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Log cabin home is where craftsman hones his skills

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 Richard Davis

Richard Davis creates art from materials provided by Mother Nature

By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

Four miles off the beaten path called Highway 70, somewhere beyond Patton Hollow but this side of Statesville, Richard Davis cools his heels on the front porch of the place he calls the Red Wine Whippoorwill Trading Post.

It’s a two-story log cabin with a red, tin roof set in a clearing between green forest where the only sounds are croaking frogs and warbling birds.

Later, when it grows dark, he said, “The whippoorwill sings here.”

Once inside his 40-foot-by-22-foot living room, built of pine from floor to ceiling, you’d swear you’d been transported to an Indian trading post, maybe in 1876 Colorado.

Dream catchers, turquoise necklaces and leather goods such as moccasins and medicine bags hang from the ceiling as do fox and coyote skins. Bows and knives adorn a corner wall. Another wall displays leather jackets, shirts, vests and halter tops. A buffalo hide rug covers a hunk of floor in front of Davis’s bed.  

Three white oak baskets on the floor contain dogbane fibers and turkey feathers. There are chainsaw carvings of bears and men in wood, old-timey brooms, walking sticks, bamboo flutes in various stages of completion, three drums and even an ostrich leather hat, a dandy work in progress.

“I do sell a few things but I make them more for enjoyment and for neighbors and friends,” said Davis, the man who made almost everything the eye can see here. “I wind up giving more away than I sell. It’s a hobby. I give them dream catchers away so kids can give them to their mothers.”

Watertown Art Crawl

The Watertown Art Crawl takes place 6-10 p.m. Saturday, May 30, on the Watertown square and benefits New Leash on Life. Tickets are $15 in advance (www.newleashonline.org) and $20 at the door.

Art created by local artists and craftsmen will be available for sale and select pieces will be sold at auction at 8 p.m. The work includes paintings, photography, jewelry, textiles, stained glass, woodburnings and more.

The venues include Gallery of the Mad House Wife, LuLu’s Coffee House, Lew’s Creation Station, Kake Haus Pastry Shop, Jay Chesley Real Estate, Thornton Metals Studio & Gallery and Kalliepearl.

Food, wine and art demonstrations will accompany the event, and live music will be provided by Rusty Sweeton, John Cisco, Scott Kirk, Lee Shropshire and David Martin.

Participating artists include A. St. Phillips, Alicia Raney, Anthony St. Phillip III, Bob McConnell, Brenda Bryan Brannon, Brian Ferrell, Charlette Clemmer, Christine Corwin, Dana Arvidson, David Riemens, Dee Dee Decker, Dee Hutchinson, Dianna Laney, Donna Delmas, J.L. Foster, Jana Kacarevic, Jeanne Richardson, Jen Wood, Kaly Torres, Kim McDaniel, Larry Finney, Lee Shropshire, Lee Todd, Lew O. Wallace, Lisa Cantrell-Wood, Lucas Antoniak, Matthew Voyles, Meg Miller, Melody Ryan, Michael C. Carpenter, Molly Agee, Nancy S. Hilgert, Olga Alexeeva, Pat Millius, Rebekah Jenkins, Richard Davis, Rick D. Wittrig, Sonya Rhodes, Stephanie Aichele, Streater Spencer, Suzanne Prince, Teri Patton, Tiffany Earnest, Trevor A. Elliot and William Hunter.

Offering demonstrations at the Watertown Art Crawl will be blacksmith David Folsom, spinner Jennifer Folsom, jewelry maker Dee Dee Decker and wood burning by Lew Wallace.

While he is definitely on the far side of the spectrum with his creations (nothing hoity-toity, for sure), Davis is one of about four dozen artists and craftsmen who will participate in Saturday night’s Watertown Art Crawl on the town Square at seven venues.

Born and raised in Watertown, the son of a farmer, Davis, 54, quit school in 10th grade and began building houses. He constructed this lodge when he was 22.He poured all the sidewalks around the Watertown Square and he roofed the Watertown Bed and Breakfast. He’s good with his hands in more ways than you can shake a shovel at, but for the past 15 years, he‘s made his living as a roofer.

“I’ve been roofing around here all my life. I’ll go roofing, then concreting. I don’t dread the roofing, I’ve just done it so long, but I like doing this other stuff more,” said the lean and bronzed Davis, who is of Irish, Cherokee and Melungeon heritage.

Standing 6 feet 1 inch and sporting a Fu Manchu moustache, Davis has sinewy arms that have been burnished brown by the sun while deep furrows run across his tanned forehead.

“I’m making things constantly. I’ve turned my living room into sort of a studio. I just go from one thing to another,” he said, sitting near three drums. “I’m kinda into making drums a little bit but I’ve not conquered it.”

Recently he hollowed out a wild cherry trunk with fire. He is considering stretching an elk or buffalo hide across its 2½-feet-diameter. He knows something about animal hides.

“When I was just a kid I got a cowhide and put it in a big barrel and soaked it and took the hair off. I learned to skin when I was a kid and later worked at a slaughterhouse. I can sew up anything,” he said, and, indeed, he shows off clothing, hats, bags and sheaths made from the tanned skins of cattle, buffalo, ostrich and python.

This cool evening a green bandana circles Davis’s head. He wears a white, muscle T-shirt and his jeans tuck into his leather boots that tote a fire tool in a tiny sheath with which he can spark a fire in seconds. Turquoise rings adorn eight fingers and one thumb. From his left ear lobe hangs a bit of bone carved into a feather.

Among the cluster dangling from his neck is a bamboo nap knife parked in a buffalo skin sheath, a knife made from alligator and turkey bone, a necklace made from a wild turkey spur and deer ankle bone and a turquoise necklace. The tattoo sashaying around his right bicep displays a Native-American man and woman, while a medicine wheel and spirit tattoo circles his left upper arm.

The Native American theme runs strong through Davis’s studio. His great-great-grandmother was full-bloodied Cherokee. With his chain saw he has carved totem poles, and four of them are on or near his front porch. An 8-foot-high, colorful totem stands beside his flint nap circle in the front yard. This is where he “naps” on flint rocks to make arrowheads.

Much of his skill comes through the blood, others come from watching others and then doing it himself. “I go to these primitive skills shows and powwows,” he said.

“My grandmother was a basket weaver. She kept one of her baskets, but the bottom was out of it. So I wanted to learn how to repair it. I met Ida Pearl and Thelma Davis and Josie Jones (three famous Cannon County white oak basket makers), and they teached me how to make ’em one summer and then I started making my own.”

Indeed, Davis, has woven 10 white oak baskets, and they are as fine as any that have come out of Cannon County.

Divorced and the father of a daughter and two sons, the craftsman has set up his wares at the Wilson County Fair the past nine years, more recently erecting a teepee.

He said his Red Wine Whippoorwill Trading Post is not at full stage yet, but, maybe, one day. “You got to work all the time to pay the dang bills,” he says, obviously preferring to carve, whittle and sew around the cabin. He also keeps his hands in the good earth.

Will work for money, trade for fun

Richard Davis is available for roofing and concrete work and will consider trading some of his arts and crafts items if you’ve got something unusual that strikes his fancy. A few of his creations are often on display and for sale at Kalliepearl on the Watertown square. To contact Davis, call 804-7196. 

“I love growing things. I have all kinds of herb beds with rosemary, garlic, basil for cooking seasonings and medicinal use. I raise a lot of what I eat,” he said during a quick tour of his greenhouse and garden that sprout potatoes, onions, cabbage, broom corn and tomatoes. The yard also holds grapevines and a blackberry patch.

Two big willow trees hang down their sleek limbs over a rocked-in pond that Davis set near his porch that runs around two sides of the house. A hundred yards away his “bamboo flute patch” flourishes with cane rising straight up 20 to 25 feet in the air. From these poles he fashions his flutes. (He will happily play one for you, too.)

The country boy who would have loved to have been a mountain man or Indian warrior looks right at home on his eclectic front porch. The décor includes a deer hide splayed on one end of the porch and a hog hide at the opposite end. A large sun-bleached cow hip bone hangs outside his screen door, and when he tugs down on the bone, it rings a red dinner bell. Here also squats a butcher block where Davis has carved an old man into the wild cherry.

Coolest of all is a 36-foot-long bamboo wind chime that stretches along the top edge of the porch and from which dangle “all kinds of rattly things.” Davis reaches up and gives it a shake, the result of which is sure to make you smile.

“Them bamboo wind chimes,” he said with a grin, “it’s a calm.”

Beside the front steps, spearmint, catnip and lemon balm grow in profusion. “I make teas from this stuff. I like the coffee, but a lot of time I substitute them,” he said.

The keeper of this amazing trading post is a big believer that anyone can learn to do anything they set their mind to. It’s just seems to come more naturally to him than most. “You can watch somebody do something and get the tools, but then you got to teach yourself and learn by doing,” said Davis, who knows no boundaries when it comes to catching dreams and transforming them into something real.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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