But he’s never sold a single piece, not because they weren’t marketable; he’s just never been inclined to sell his work. Don’s motto is, “If you charge a dollar, you lose a friend.” Still his pieces have become very popular in the community where they have been displayed over the years or given as gifts to friends and family.
Fond of carving caricatures, Don won a blue ribbon at the Tennessee Valley Fair in the early-90’s for a carving he dubbed “Knicker Knockers.” It was group of 4 golfers with movable heads wearing polos and golf pants and standing near their golf clubs.
Once while being treated for heart problems, he met a lady in cardiology for whom he carved several wooden name tags that she could pin to herself. She was thrilled with the gift, and now that the woman, nicknamed “Shorty,” has passed away, McMurray muses that at least one of his carvings has gone to heaven.
While McMurray enjoys carving his more lighthearted pieces, he says he has more respect for his more serious carvings, such as the nativity which took him more than two years to complete. (It’s the only piece he has ever tracked the completion time on.) Starting with the Baby Jesus’ face, he was so dissatisfied with the outcome, he started over on the other end of the piece of wood. Always beginning at the face, which McMurray says is the hardest part, he laughs about it now and calls it “twin Jesuses.”
Most of his work can still be found displayed throughout his home, pieces such as ducks and Indian pieces, and a piece bearing the Kingston logo. The rest are stored in five boxes in the basement which is where his workshop is also located.
The craft that he loves comes natural to him. He has been doing woodwork all of his life, and a 4-poster bed in his home testifies to his skill and the quality of his work. He says he took up the carving hobby after he became a card-carrying member of the Smoky Mountain Wood Carvers group, and he hasn’t looked back since. The culmination of his years of work will be a public exhibit at the Kingston Community Center on March 9th.
And although he has slowed down a little over the years, saying he’s lost a little of the feeling and a little of the attitude, he’ll return to his work table often to finish those undone pieces. And sometimes, when the wood calls to him, he’ll even start a new one.
Photos courtesy David Doonan/Roane Newspapers