Between the lines tells the story: Waynesville woodworker carves into passion
When you are in the presence of the woodwork by Ben Grant, you find yourself captivated by the contours of his pieces.
Each creation is intricate in nature, but with the same kind of smoothness you might see in a high-end car design, where there’s a sense of style, innovation and sharpness, but not one line or space is wasted — a complete creative statement.
“You can make anything out of wood, from a functional piece of furniture to an elaborate sculptural vessel,” Grant said. “It’s a very strong and versatile material that can be carved, shaped, or bent into any form or design you could imagine.”
Hailing from Rock Hill, South Carolina, the 33-year-old has made Western North Carolina his home for the better part of the last five years. Originally a construction worker, he became enthralled with the idea of building something from nothing.
“I got a job working construction about 12 years ago. It was my first experience working with my hands. I loved everything about it,” Grant said. “[But], it wasn’t until four years later that I started taking some woodworking classes and learning a finer aspect of the craft.”
From 2009 to 2012, Grant found himself enrolled in workshops at the legendary Penland School of Crafts, about an hour north of Asheville. While there, he took several courses, including “Alternative Methods of Carving,” “Exploring Chair Design,” “Not Your Grandad’s Ball & Claw” and “The Potential of Cabinets.”
“I fell in love with the hands-on aspect of woodworking immediately, but my craftsmanship was terrible. It took a while to get the hang of it, but I stuck with it and the results became very fulfilling,” Grant said. “I didn’t know where woodworking would take me exactly, but, at that point, I knew it was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.”
Grant’s ongoing academic and artistic journey also included additional instruction at the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts (Gatlinburg, Tennessee). The years of classes and growing passion for woodworking eventually led to a degree in “Professional Crafts-Wood” from Haywood Community College (Clyde) in 2016.
“[The HCC woodworking] program was extremely beneficial. Students are given the freedom to explore design ideas and techniques while being skillfully guided. We learned how to problem solve and take ideas from original concept to finished project, no matter what skill level we started the program with,” Grant said. “I also found it beneficial to be in a small group of like-minded students who supported each other through the entire process. Before I went to HCC, I had a basic understanding of woodworking and focused mostly on making simple bowls and vessels. Today, I feel confident that I can create any design I dream up.”
When scouting out wood for his projects, Grant’s approach is case-by-case, where each piece of wood picked is specifically tailored to what’s needed at that time and place.
“It really just depends on the project. Each species of wood has different characteristics from the next,” Grant said. “Some are better for carving, and some for bending, some have exquisite grain, and some just look better painted. Any piece of wood can be made to work for any application, but sometimes it helps the process to pick woods that are more agreeable for certain tasks.”
In recent months, Grant has put the finishing touches on his work studio at his home in Waynesville. It’s been a long road to this point, where now the woodworker can spread his craft out into the endless depths of Southern Appalachia.
“I’ve been most surprised by the reality that my passions have become my career. I could never have imagined the enormous amounts of support I have received from family, friends, teachers, customers, and the community,” Grant said. “When I am working with wood, one idea will lead to the next. Each new piece of furniture is an improvement on a previous design. Sometimes working on one aspect of a certain piece will lead to an idea for an entirely new concept — it’s a constantly evolving process of exploration.”
Woodworker Ben Grant
• Best of WNC: Emerging Craft Artist Showcase
• IWF Design Emphasis Showcase
• “Of The Earth” Exhibition, Arts Council of York County
• Fall Festival, John C. Campbell Folk School
• Crafty Feast, Columbia Museum of Art
• Juried Competition, Arts Council of York County
• 30 Small Works, Gallery Up
• Contemporaries’ Artist of the Year Exhibit, Columbia Museum of Art
• “Best in Show,” IWF Design Emphasis Showcase
• “Design/Creativity Merit Award,” IWF Design Emphasis Showcase