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Turning over a new leaf: Lucas Hundley pursuing woodworking passion

JONAS RIDGE — To the layman’s eyes, a block of wood holds limited features outside of its typical utilitarian purposes, but to woodturner and master craftsman Lucas Hundley, a block of wood can hold a nearly endless array of possibilities into which it can be formed.

At his studio in Jonas Ridge, Hundley takes hunks of wood, typically thrown out or discarded after a tree-clearing operation at someone’s property, and literally turns them into pieces of art. Chunks of cherry wood, sugar maple, honey locust and a variety of different types that lay outside of Hundley’s workshop are eventually transformed into an assortment of finely crafted items, such as bowls, ornaments, salt and pepper shakers, lamps and other artifacts. However, Hundley’s repertoire does not stop short of his woodturning skills. Hundley even makes his own handcrafted furniture.

The Appalachian antiquities that line Hundley’s shop are the result of the 34-year-old’s journey to perfect his trade since he began when he was eight years old. Some of his machinery, or Hundley’s equivalent of a painter’s easel, has remained a staple in his life since he began woodworking when his father, former county extension agent Doug Hundley, introduced him to the craft all those years ago. A few items in his shop have even stayed in the drying process for more than two decades.

“At 13, my dad already had us working in tree fields. It’s not my favorite thing to do, so when I was 13 and doing (woodturning) fairly frequently as a hobby and trying to make ornaments and sell them at choose-and-cut lots, Dad was very kind and he talked to Alan Hollar for me about working for him. So it was either work in a tree field or work for Alan,” Hundley said.

Hollar was, and still today, is what Hundley refers to as a “phenomenal woodturner.” Moreover, Hollar is a well-known craftsman across the region and was president of the Southern Highland Craft Guild at one point. As is often the case with apprenticeships, Hundley took the skills he developed with Hollar and went on to improve them further by attending the Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Tech University, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Before attending university, Hundley took classes at Haywood Community College, which Hundley stresses has an “amazing program.”

“For anyone looking to do (woodturning), fiber arts, ceramics or jewelry, they have a program that teaches you the skills, the design sense, art history and all that, but they also have a completely separate section that teaches you how to do this for a living,” Hundley said. “The students they produce are quality craftsmen with an idea of how to go out and make a living.”

Throughout the years following his high school education, Hundley had a pair of opportunities to go study in Japan where he became familiar with the Japanese style of woodturning that produces lacquerware or finely decorated objects. The process involves using a sharpened, flat piece of steel to sand the wood as well as using sap from a tree similar to poison sumac to provide a finish that Hundley describes as the “best in the planet.”

“Except for the fact that the wood goes around, it’s completely different,” Hundley said of Japanese woodturning. “The crafts in Japan are taken very seriously. So very rarely do you have people who retire and take up something as a hobby, because you spend your whole life dedicated to a craft over there. You don’t just do it for fun.”

Upon completing his higher education, Hundley went on to pick up various jobs throughout the years, including working for the school system as a tutor, construction, team building and as a production manager for a metal shop, among other occupations. Through it all, Hundley maintained his passion for woodworking, and earlier this year he decided to pursue the passion for his sole livelihood.

Admittedly, as for every other business during the COVID-19 pandemic, things have not gone as planned. Nevertheless, Hundley has experienced navigating harsh economic situations before, having graduated college during the 2009 recession. Hundley envisions his shop as not only being a place in which masterfully crafted art is produced, but also a place where these skills can be passed down to the next generation and apprenticeships can be formed similar to the one that Hundley had with Hollar.

“The one thing that people in (the United States) can do is start their own business, become self employed. I wish there was more of that (focus) in the educational system or at least more opportunities like that, and I would like this business to foster that. I would like to take on students or apprentices to help me make my work, but so they can also learn a skill set so they can start their own business or team up and stay a part of the company,” Hundley said.

To view or learn more about Lucas Hundley’s work, click to Additionally, Hundley’s work can be purchased by clicking to or by calling (828) 260-8211.

To watch Lucas Hundley create one of his signature bowls from start to finish, click to or visit our social media page.

Burleson gives Eagles Nest update, Barrier presents monthly report

County Manager Phillip Barrier is asking citizens to visit the Avery County website and click the link entitled ‘Help Us Increase Broadband Services in NC’ and complete a survey to help the grant funding agency to form a more accurate map of broadband service and need in the county. Those who do not have internet can complete the survey by calling or texting (919) 750-0553 and answer the questions about internet service at their home.

NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners reconvened for its monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 4, in which Tommy Burleson gave an update on the Eagles Nest Development.

As its first order of business, the board voted unanimously to appoint several individuals to important positions on county boards, including Stephanie Greer to the Workforce Development Board, Todd Griffin to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and Jack Wiseman Jr. to the Avery County Agricultural Advisory Board.

The board also received applications from Jerry Markland for a position of the Department of Social Services board and from Matthew McClellan and Joe Hawkins for one available position on the Fire Commission. The commissioners will review the submitted applications and make a decision at its next scheduled meeting.

County Director of Planning and Inspections Tommy Burleson made an appearance to discuss phase two of Eagles Nest Holdings’ Vineyard Village. The Avery County Planning Board had previously passed a motion on July 27 to present the plat as approved to the board of commissioners.

“With what they have now, they can put about two more of these clustered developments. People like to buy homes in a cluster, because of security, their brothers and their sisters, their neighbors down the street and they come up in here in groups to do that,” Burleson said.

Burleson ran through the details of a watershed that the development uses that provides clean water to the homeowners, which is also used for other purposes. Commissioner Dennis Aldridge expressed concern over continuing the development without providing sufficient security to the homes, citing a recent fire that occured in the development this past week after lightning struck a residence.

“It certainly got my attention whenever I was told that it was three and a half to four miles to get to the water source,” Aldridge said. “I have some concerns that we’re moving and developing and going into areas that I’m not sure we have the capacity to provide service for or if we’re endangering people and firefighters.”

Aldridge asked Burleson if there was any consideration for having a nearby water access point to which Burleson replied that there has been an ongoing discussion on the matter for the past year, and offered a solution by tapping into a water source and installing a hydrant near the seafood restaurant and artisanal spring. Aldridge pressed Burleson further on why this was not done before, which Burleson responded by assuring that it would be included in the master plan for development.

“We can put in water points and that needs to be part of the phase. I think (the developers) will understand that. We’ve been talking about it and as this phase of development comes into being, this is where we look at it, because this has been raw land until now,” Burleson.

Aldridge proposed to table the approval until next meeting while County Attorney Michelle Poore and the board reviewed the proposal. The board approved the decision unanimously.

The board then unanimously approved a resolution regarding the Mayland Community College Anspack Advanced Manufacturing School. The resolution states that the manufacturing school has been receiving non-recurring multi-campus funds for the past four years and that it requests that the county provide recurring funding.

“They’ve been getting a lot of work during COVID-19, and they’ve had it for a pretty good while, and they’re now seeing that it’s going to be a big use for the college. This last meeting we had, we decided to do a resolution and bring it to the commission,” Commissioner Martha Hicks said, who also sits on the Mayland Community College Board of Trustees.

According to the resolution, the Anspach Advanced Manufacturing School is a state-of-the-art facility with a technology-rich Rapid Prototype Center, its 3D metal printing has been used extensively by businesses and industry and its the region’s primary source for two-year engineers.

County Manager Phillip Barrier introduced a contract to the board with for specialized consulting services, which he said will be needed by the county in order to properly administer a FEMA reimbursement. The board unanimously approved the project. The county will pay $55 per hour to the consultant, and the funds will be covered under the CARES Act.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding between the county and the Town of Beech Mountain for the purpose of setting forth the understanding of the parties regarding the provision of the emergency 911 communication system.

“What this is, is if there’s a call for the sheriff’s office, they are already responding first. This is just putting it on paper for the state’s communication system,” Barrier said.

Barrier then gave his county manager’s update in which he reported to the board that the county will be receiving a second allotment of CARES Act funding in the amount of $340,745, which will bring the total to $876,403. The amount will be split with the towns by 55 percent, and each town will have to submit a plan on how they will spend their allotment by September 1.

“I want to brag on Avery County and our government. This morning at our COVID meeting it was reiterated that we are the one of the only counties that is having meetings with its health department, and I want to thank the health department for that,” Barrier said. “Our sheriff just went to the Sheriff’s Association and there’s this big fight about not working together, with this person not releasing funds or that person, and that’s not happening in our county. I’m very proud of that.”

The health department sits down twice weekly with the EMS director, the emergency management director, the sheriff and the county manager. Barrier said that each director is “talking about the same goal.”

“Besides what you may believe about COVID, we are all making the best effort to serve our citizens,” Barrier said.

Structall is taking bids from contractors to go in and clean out the abandoned manufacturing plant. Additionally, the county and the Town of Newland have been in contact with Aldi, Food Lion, Piggly Wiggly, Save Mart and letter packets have gone to 12 different units to come in and lease or buy the former Lowes Foods shopping center property.

Barrier is asking citizens to visit the Avery County website and click the link entitled “Help Us Increase Broadband Services in NC,” and complete a survey to help the grant funding agency to form a more accurate map of broadband service and need in the county.

Those who do not have internet can complete the survey by calling or texting (919) 750-0553 and answer the questions about internet service at home.

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2020 Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival canceled due to pandemic

BANNER ELK — The Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival, an autumn staple in the High Country annually since 1978, has been canceled for 2020 due to concerns related to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, according to a release from festival committee chair Mary Jo Brubaker on July 31.

“It is with deep sadness that the 2020 Woolly Worm Festival of Banner Elk has been canceled,” the release stated. “This is not a decision the Woolly Worm Board of Directors has taken lightly. Every year, profits from the festival are given back to our community to enhance the lives of children and to promote business and tourism in Avery County. Local businesses and organizations also benefit from festival visitors to our community.”

Consideration for the safety of attendees, staff and other participants was paramount in making the move to not host the festival onsite at its location in front of the Historic Banner Elk School in the heart of downtown Banner Elk, where thousands of attendees gather for the event to race worms, raise funds for charitable institutions and determine the forecast for the coming High Country winter by the shades of the winning woolly worm.

“After careful consideration and guidance from local and state agencies, as well as the boards of directors from the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and the Avery County Chamber of Commerce, the decision was made to cancel this year’s onsite Woolly Worm Festival on Oct. 17 and 18. We know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today,” the release added. “Your safety comes first, and we’re grateful to all who planned to be a part of this year’s Woolly Worm Festival, and who have made it a fall tradition since 1978. We hope you’ll join us when the Festival returns to Banner Elk in 2021.”

Although the festival itself will not be held in person this fall, the committee still intends to shine a bright spotlight on its many vendors and continue making a positive impact on the community the festival uplifts and benefits.

“In the meantime, the Woolly Worm Festival Board of Directors will be developing a link from our website to many of our vendors so that you will still be able to support and purchase some of their wonderful handicrafts online. The board is also working on a way to decide which Woolly Worm will determine this winter’s weather forecast with virtual online races,” the release noted. “Plans are being made for a way that children can interact with Merryweather online. Please continue to check our Woolly Worm website at, the Avery Chamber website at and the Woolly Worm Facebook page for further details as plans develop.”