Walt Cottingham

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WoodHawk Ridge Farm
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I have lived in the Southern Appalachians for most of my life, and have been creating craft pieces since childhood. I use natural materials, such as mountain laurel, hollow logs, and slabs, as well as recycled material from old buildings and sawmills, to create interesting pieces of rustic beauty and functionality. My primary work today is in building birdhouses, ornaments, and tables.


Walt Cottingham

I originally learned to work with wood by helping my father do carpentry work around our home in Henderson County, North Carolina. As a small boy, I received a more formal learning experience in the shop at Camp Pinnacle where my father was camp director. I continued my craft education in a woodworking shop class taught by a master craftsman in my high school. Beyond high school and college (Furman University, B.A. in History, 1974; M.A. in Education, 1982), I worked in several carpentry jobs, with a number of old Appalachian carpenters. Eventually I worked with one of these carpenters at a summer camp, teaching boys how to build various structures, using both sawmill products and logs from the forest. My biggest project was the construction of my own home, which I began in 1978. It was in this work that I used many of the techniques and ideas that are evident in my craft work today. I used recycled materials such as old windows and doors, and a floor that is over one hundred years old. I took wood from the forest for large beams, even a maple tree for a central post.
After finishing the house, I occasionally made furniture pieces for it, keeping my hand in with woodworking even though most of my attention was focused elsewhere--I was a public school teacher for 42 years (retired in 2017), and I have a family of my own.
Beginning in 2002, I turned my attention to woodworking again with a renewed emphasis and vigor. I was inspired by some crafts I saw in galleries and thought that the experience I had using natural materials as well as recycled ones might lead to some interesting creations. I read a number of books on birdhouse construction, and made a few birdhouses to specifications. After I had a firm grasp on various factors such as the size and shape of houses preferred by various species, I began moving my designs away from the predictable and into more creative and individual pieces. Beyond birdhouses, I have also focused on making tables and benches with hardwood slabs and mountain laurel legs.
In my work I use standard woodworking tools, both power tools and hand tools, some of which are archaic. My goal is always to reflect what I see in the wood, to bring out the character and features which make each piece unique. My goal is to produce pieces which always possess rustic beauty and functionality, while in the process giving new life to old, unusual, or discarded materials.