A Craft of Passion 17

At Givens Estates, an idyllic retirement community tucked into one of Asheville’s hollers, they don’t have clubs—they have interest groups. And a particularly hearty interest group is meeting to discuss their passion: woodworking.

“We’re called GE-WIG: Givens Estates Woodworking Interest Group,” Carlos explains with a guttural laugh. “It sounds like a bug,” quips Ray, eliciting more laughter.

These gentlemen, whose hands are as familiar with the smooth and rough grains of hardwood as they are with their own skin, sit around an—of course—wooden table, situated outside an endeavor all their own, a new wood shop to rival that of the finest in the country.

As each man introduces himself and his passion for woodworking, patterns emerge, stories unfold, and jokes are tossed around with ease. Most of them found woodworking as children, whether in bible school projects or as a so-called side-hustle. Carlos, perhaps the most passionate woodworker of the group who donated his extensive shop to Givens upon his arrival 11 years ago, has been crafting for decades (as have most of his compatriots). “Well, I started with a vibrating jigsaw when I was 8 or 9 years old,” he says, describing the match holders—shaped like cats with open mouths to hold the tinder—he’d create with his sister. Andy relied on carpentry to pay for his college tuition. Ray remembers the first tool set he received for Christmas when he was just 12 years old.

Despite these standard introductions to woodworking (traditions lost by modern generations to the ebbing of time), the members of GE-WIG all seem to have changed their tune in their later years. Though they refined their craft through necessity, things like home projects and furniture requests, today it’s a beloved hobby they get to refine with pleasure.

“It keeps you out of the saloon,” Ray laughs. Bill adds, “And it takes care of your creative urges.” “Plus it makes it easy for your wife to get rid of you,” John says, raising his eyebrows. Laughter rolls around the table.

It’s these newfound and easy friendships that truly define the woodworkers of Givens Estates. “Before I moved to Givens, I had my own woodworking shop, but I lacked one thing—a lathe,” says John. At Givens, he has a lathe and, more importantly, friends to teach him the art of turning wood. “We had a good teacher here in Carlos, and Bill, and Ray. Carlos taught me how to turn, Bill showed me the finite part of turning, and you have to finish whatever you make, and Ray is a finishing expert. So I had all these experts on hand.”

The experts will truly be able to refine their skills in the new wood shop, a 2,100 square foot addition to the property, complete with a state-of-the-art automated dust collection system.. Tom, a resident, occasional woodworker and retired mechanical engineer, is the mastermind behind the woodshop design. “I look forward to having it finished more than using it,” he says with a humble laugh.

Upon completion, these passionate crafters will be able to return to their hobby with renewed gusto, continuing a tradition that’s defined the Givens’ experience for decades. Over the years residents have crafted thousands of wooden toys for underprivileged children, all the furniture in the on-site chapel, and dozens of personal projects. Carlos, for example, recently crafted a Sam Maloof style rocking chair that earned the blue ribbon at the Mountain State Fair.

The new space won’t just be a state-of-the-art clubhouse for the friends of GE-WIG; it will also help newbies get into the art with classes and offer a welcome respite for retirees to come. In an arts and crafts region like Asheville, traditions like woodworking find a sustained and passionate home in the hands of the woodworkers of Givens Estates.