Silver Dollar City Artists & Craftsmen
Imagine a day in the life of an 1880’s family living in the Ozarks. Take your imagination back in time to when butter was churned by hand from the fresh milk of the family cow. Because the mountainous terrain made travel to and from the Ozarks so difficult, families lived isolated from the rest of the world. They learned to rely on themselves and their neighbors for their needs. They farmed, hunted and raised animals for their food. They sewed, weaved, knitted, quilted and crafted their clothes and textiles. They hand forged tools and implements. They made soap, baked bread, canned vegetables, cured meat and occasionally make a little moonshine. Together they had house raisings, spelling bees, hog killings, and country dances. They were proud and independent people.
These skills and traits have been handed down from each generation to the next and are on display everyday at Silver Dollar City. At Silver Dollar City, known as “The Home of American Craftsmanship”, you can meet demonstrating craftsmen and watch them as they create their handiworks. Their shops showcase hand-crafted, one of a kind, functional as well as decorative items.
Learn a little about these craftsmen.
Don Bair – Silversmith
Don joined Silver Dollar City in 1990 as a silversmith and pewter spinner after spending most of his life in the jewelry business. Don had gained an expertise in gold and diamonds, and was excited to have the opportunity at SDC to work with and learn from other master craftsmen He learned to spin pewter on a lathe from Marty Degaffenreid, and he was taught wax casting and stone setting from Mark Prater. Together, they collaborated on many fine jewelry pieces. Even after 20 years at SDC, Don is amazed at the knowledge and skills that are passed between craftsmen at SDC. He appreciates the many crafts that are made at SDC and acknowledges that hands-on learning is the best way to learn a craft and that there is no place better than SDC for this experience.
Frank admits that his career took him down many paths before he joined Silver Dollar City in 1997 to work at Sullivan’s Mill. It was his interest in old things that attracted him to the job at the old water operated grist mill, but it has been the many friends that he has met and continues to meet that makes him appreciate his craft the most. In 1997, he learned to grind wheat and corn at the mill. In the fall of that year he baked his first loaf of bread and he has continued ever since. “I have made lifelong friends of the people that I have met working here” he stated. “This place reminds them of their grandmother’s kitchen.” Frank also writes poetry which is on display at Sullivan’s Mill. He has written a children’s book as well.
Candy makers- June Ward
June has been making candy at Silver Dollar City for over 40 years. Making great candy takes skill and personality and June has plenty of both. She learned the craft of making candy from Paul Davis and Paul Whitmar. Though I never met Paul Whitmar, “Grandpa” Davis was as fine (and funny) of a man as you could ever meet. June is affectionately known by her co-workers as the “Candy Queen” or “Queenie” and has quite a reputation for playing practical jokes
Judy is the junior candy maker at Silver Dollar City as she has “only” 19 years experience. Making 240 lbs of peanut brittle and 64 lbs of fudge each day for 19 years might seem like quite a chore to most, but not to Judy. She took a job at Silver Dollar City to get away from the real hard work of her family’s small farm in northeast Arkansas, and says that she has loved every day at Silver Dollar City. She is 66 years old and has no plans to retire. Judy says about June, “ June is a wonderful teacher who taught me everything I know about candy making, and a few things I didn’t need to know,” (with a big laugh).
Bladesmith- Ray Johnson
If you have any kind of question about knives, Ray Johnson is your resource. He began making knives as a hobby in his 20’s, and has been making knives for a living since 1983. In 1988, Ray began demonstrating his skills at the forge in front of Silver Dollar City’s Mountain Outfitters Shop. Ray forges about 200 knives per year and makes them out of all kinds of materials like stone, bone, chains, carbon steel, and his favorite material, Damascus steel. Damascus steel knives have as many as 640 layers and take between 40 and 100 hours to build. Ray explains,” the soul of the blade is in the hammering and the quench and the temper”. “I’m the luckiest man in the world, because I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and making a living at it. Most people aren’t so lucky”.
Woodcarver- Pam Gresham
Pam was introduced to chip carving by her husband who is also a woodcarver. She enjoyed the craft as a way to relax. Chip carving is a 1000 year old northern European method of carving wood into beautiful pieces of art by using a short bladed knife to chip away the wood from a block. She commonly uses basswood or linden wood for her pieces. Pam participated in the Fall Festival of American Crafts at SDC for many years before accepting full time employment at Silver Dollar City. She carves intricate, one-of-a-kind pieces and is best known for her fireplace mantels, shelves, cabinets, and decorative keepsake boxes. She has carved beautiful carousel horses as well. Pam has been featured in a variety of woodworking magazines and has authored three “how-to” books. She is considered one of the world’s top chip carvers.
Blacksmith- Wayne Rice
Wayne has always enjoyed making things with his hands and has especially enjoyed his eight years at Silver Dollar City. He learned to forge during high school and later worked with die casting and metals for 30 years. At Silver Dollar City, Wayne makes everything from small kitchen utensils to fireplace sets, tools, and more. He enjoys intricate pieces like wrought iron roses. He adds a few drops of rose oil and says “Young folks’ eyes light up when they realize the iron rose’s smell like the real thing.” Blacksmithing can take a toll on a person. Wayne said that he has caught his shirt on fire more than once and showed me his thumb to prove that even the master blacksmiths occasionally hit their thumb with their hammer.
Glassblower – Todd Nelson
Todd’s passion for the arts began as a potter, while in college in Mankato, Minnesota. His passion for pottery took him to Silver Dollar City, where he began his employment over 25 years ago. He helped train apprentice crafters at Hillcreek Pottery, and later moved to Hazel’s Blown Glass Factory. His shop is known for its dichroic glass, which is glass with a thin coat of metal that has been applied in a vacuum chamber. His art begins as glass bars that are initially heated in a 2,400 degree furnace. Todd then has a short window of time to form the glass into the beautiful art pieces that are on display in the shop next to the factory. It is an amazing process to watch. Todd loves his work and said, “I know that many of these pieces of me will live on long after I am gone.”
Glass Cutter – George Stiverson
George began his second career as a glass cutter by completing a three year apprenticeship program at the Silver Dollar City Hillside Glass shop. That was over 25 years ago. Over the years he refined his skills and progressed to Senior Craftsmen, and later gained the distinction of Master Craftsmen. George enjoys creating custom glass designs for the guests of SDC as much as the day he started. His creations are considered large scale heirloom designs, but I can attest that they require quite intricate cutting. He says that he “enjoys meeting so many people from all over the world, and every day is unique.”
Furniture Maker – Warren Cook
Handcrafting heirloom quality wood furnishings takes a hand for precision and an eye for detail. Warren Cook has both. He has been crafting fine wood furniture for over 20 years. Working in Silver Dollar City’s traditional 1880’s workshop, Warren uses turn of the century tools including a Baxter & Whitney back knife lathe and a vintage dovetail machine to create impressive home furnishings. His work speaks for itself. His beautiful bookcases, entertainment centers, bedroom sets, dining tables, and other home furnishings can be viewed or purchased in the SDC furniture showroom
Potter – Jeff Walker
Jeff Walker is one of the newest master craftsmen at Silver Dollar City. He came to SDC in 2010 from Kansas City, where he owned his own pottery studio. Jeff had shown his pottery at the annual National Harvest Festival for many years prior to joining SDC full time. His artistic influence on the Hillcreek Pottery shop became immediately evident with his unique shapes and uses of glazes. There are many elements necessary to convert the 30 tons of clay that Hillcreek Pottery uses annually into works of art. It takes 3 or more weeks to complete many pieces. The pieces that Jeff creates must be fired in ovens at 2,400 degrees to fuse the clay, the glass, and the glaze. Jeff enjoys making pottery that people can use every day. He said, “Art is something that should enrich our daily lives,” and his art will definitely accomplish his mission.
Candle maker – Gene Evans
The long time master candle maker Joyce “Cricket” Huth has retired and passed the torch, or wick may be more appropriate, to Gene Evans. Gene has been visiting SDC since it opened 50 years ago, and began his employment with SDC 11 years ago as a leather maker. When the opportunity arose to learn the candle making trade from “Cricket”, Gene jumped on it. He has loved every minute of his work at SDC. He especially likes working with his store manager, Carrie Payne, though he said that “she can be a true pain at times” (with a big laugh). Carrie has worked at SDC since she was 13 years old and said that SDC is the best place to work imaginable. Together, Gene and Carrie make Carries Candles a shop that you will not want to miss.
Culinary Arts- Debbie Dance Uhrig
Debbie is Silver Dollar City’s Master Craftsmen of the Culinary Arts. She regularly conducts cooking classes at the Culinary & Craft School. Her engaging personality and cheerful smile makes her a perfect choice for the role. She has a Masters Degree in Education and is a renowned culinary writer. She authored the cookbook, “Simply Yours”, and has contributed articles to many newspapers as well. She has a love of food and especially appreciates great down-home style comfort foods.