Mark Newberry is fifth generation chair maker from Red Boiling Springs, and a 2009 awardee of the Tennessee Governor’s Folklife Heritage Award. Since before the Civil War, the Newberrys have built chairs with a commitment to workmanship and tradition. The family holds close to the old-fashioned chair designs and construction techniques. The lean posts, hand-woven hickory bark bottoms, and bent backs found on today’s chairs are the same time-tested styles as were used in the 19th century.
The Newberrys harvest and mill their own chair timber on the family farmland. Newberry chairs were exhibited in the Southern Art Federation’s exhibit “Tradition/Innovation: Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art.” They were also featured in Roby Cogswell’s book Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies. Mark continues to demonstrate his chair making at many annual events, including the Mountaineer Folk Festival, the Wilson County Fair, and the Macon County Fair.
Mark has worked these past months with apprentice Malika Scheu, his adult niece, to further instruct her in the complete process from harvesting to constructing a finished chair. In May, Malika completed her first barstool, a gift to her mom for Mother’s Day. Almost from birth, Malika has been a frequent presence and helper in the shop alongside her uncles, grandfather, and great grandfather. She joins them now fully as chair maker in her own right.