The People:
Martha Coffey

Martha Coffey

Born in Pelzer, South Carolina, Martha came to the area in 1930 with her mother and father who built their own home on land they inherited.  Martha carves six to eight hours daily, first roughing out a piece in the evening and doing finish work every morning.  She carves on her couch that sits beside her front door.  A view of her flower garden and spectacular cannas lies just beyond the porch.  Martha is the only carver in her family, now carving for over twenty years.  She started carving after someone gave her an elephant napkin ring.  “I bought a knife and tried to copy it.”  Soon thereafter Martha was studying under Murray Martin.  “She showed us the process and made us do them over until we did them right.”  Her late friend, carver Hettie Kearney Coffee, was “the best thing that ever happened to me”; she provided Martha with inspiration and helped her with carving. 

Martha attributes her continued on-going progress as a Brasstown carver to Helen Gibson.  “I just enjoy it...you’ve got to have it [subject] in your mind...you see a picture of it and you’ve got to be fresh,” she continues, “you end up looking closely at animals.” 

She learned to carve her beautiful camels used in nativity scenes under Jack Hall and has carved skunks, dogs and chickens in many poses and sizes.  Martha has given many carving demonstrations throughout the region from the Folk School to Asheville, the Riverbend Festival to the World’s Fair in Knoxville.  Martha concludes, “Carving was something I had to fall back on...it gave me something to do.” 

- 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.