The People:
Helen Gibson

Helen Gibson

Helen is a second generation Brasstown carver, the daughter of Dot McClure, and the Folk School’s Resident Carver and Mentor for the Apprentice Carvers.  She has taught numerous classes at Tri-County Community College, and given workshops and demonstrations throughout the southeast.  “I learn from it as much as students, and a lot of the time I see things that I can improve on too.”  Helen is nationally known and respected for her crèche figures of wise men, shepherds, Mary and Joseph.  Her favorite wood is holly, her most difficult and challenging, the shepherds with crooks.  “When I’m carving all week I can make five to seven crèche figures, but hardwoods slow you down.”

Helen is continually honing her carving skills; she recently participated at a clay model/ woodcarving program at the Sawmill Center for the Arts in Cooksburg, Pennsylvania, taught by Canadian, Joe Damph.  “The first day I felt I’m here and don’t need to be, but after that I really got into it.  I had never worked in clay but enjoyed it.” 

Like many of the other Brasstown carvers, Helen’s first carvings were hen and rooster napkin rings given to her to carve by Murray Martin.  “I took evening courses with Jack Hall and went on to elephants, bears and deer... I’ve carved all my life.”  Helen, like her mother, initially trained under Murray Martin.  “Miss Martin showed you how to carve and would tell you how to correct your work... Granny sanded for us and Fannie Ivester helped us too.”  Helen became involved with producing crèche figures through Maggie Masters who asked Jack Hall to teach Nativity carving, “...that’s how I got started on the crèche figures, through Jack.”  “Jack would carve one side of a face and have you carve the other.  You know, I’ve always said I would like to be half as good as Jack Hall...I like to carve and I would have never carved if it hadn’t been for the Folk School, and I wouldn’t have ever gotten out and sold my work.”

- Transcribed from John C. Campbell Folk School, The Brasstown Carvers (1990),
with text by Bill Biggers, photographs by Werner Kahn and Bill Biggers.
Used with permission of the John C. Campbell Folk School.