Feature Artist ~ Todd Barrow
Story & photos by Paul M. Howey
For a young man, Todd Barrow has lived—and continues to live—the existence of an old-time, mountain craftsman wholly dedicated to his art. While he is a person of few words, his rustic furniture, treasured by homeowners and collectors throughout the country, speaks volumes about his talent.
He’s settled on three acres outside Mars Hill, moving to the area from Asheville about 14 years ago. “Prior to that, I was living in a warehouse on Lyman Street in what they now call the River Arts District,” says Todd. “There was hardly anything there at the time. The Fire Department came and told me I couldn’t live in the warehouse, and that I had to move. It was okay. I wanted to get away from the city anyway.”
He had gotten to Asheville by a circuitous route that included time spent in Washington, Tennessee, East Flat Rock, North Carolina, and Georgia. While in Atlanta, he attended the Portfolio Center studying graphic design. After finishing school, he lived and worked in Helen, Georgia, a town built to resemble an Alpine Village. It was while there that he fell in love with horses, an association that continues to do this day (despite being trampled by a horse a couple of days before this interview).
Somewhere in here, the furniture started. “Hey, I just needed a stool to sit on around the campfire,” explains Todd. “The first two sucked though, so I tossed them into the fire.” He got better over the years. A lot better.
There’s a bit of irrepressible wanderlust inside this artist, and so calling one place home didn’t work very well after a while.
“I ended up living in my van for about three years,” he says. “I traveled up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway, making and selling birdhouses, tables, and chairs mostly.” All the while, his skill level kept rising.
About this Gypsy-like existence, Todd says, “I learned a lot of things. I look at it now as a rite of passage in a way.” Would he like to do that again? “Heck no. I was young and stupid back then. You’re invincible when you’re young.”
His desire to keep moving has taken him to New Zealand, all across the United States, to northern Quebec (“Where,” he says, “I found out how easy it was to get lost when you don’t speak French.”), and to living on the reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
He’s visited, and continues to do so, the master rustic furniture makers in the Adirondacks. Through these trips, his reputation and skill have continued to grow. Among his creations (his larger, more intricate pieces sell for thousands of dollars) are headboards, dressers, mirrors, lamps, and just about anything else his mind comes up with.
He’s constantly busy, with most of his work coming from commissions. “If I’m not working,” he says, “I don’t do well. I’ll never retire. I’m an artist and have to pay my own way.” Continuing to create art, he explains, is his retirement plan.
Has the demand for his work increased with the improving economy? He nods and answers with a story.
“See my pickup truck there, loaded with furniture? I got pulled over three times on a recent trip, pulled over by people who wanted to buy the furniture right off the truck.” He recounts another incident, again with his truck stacked with his creations, when it broke down in Blowing Rock.
“The garage needed to order a part, so I had to spend the night. I asked the guy who owned the garage if I could sleep in the truck in front of his garage and he said okay. Wasn’t long before a woman came by and bought it all. I got to spend the night in a motel with a warm shower.”
HGTV has featured Todd’s furniture on several occasions, and he was commissioned to replicate chairs for the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. In addition, he made the headboards for The Treehouse at Disneyworld. With this level of skill, his “retirement plan” seem secure.
To learn more about Todd Barrow and see more of his art, visit rusticravenfurniture.com. His work can be seen in our region at Grovewood Gallery in Asheville, New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Village, and Fiddlestix in Mars Hill. His furniture will also be on display at Beach Glass Designs, 2501 Old Mars Hill Highway in Weaverville, during “Art in Autumn, October 27–28. To reach the artist, call 770.314.4667 or email email@example.com.
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