September 13, 2010

PLEASANT HILL RAMBLINGS: Wood artist is still busy carving at age 92

September 13, 2010 By Jean Clark Chronicle contributor

It is hard to believe that Polly Page is 92 years old as I watched her steady hand using the lathe in one of her four workrooms in Pleasant Hill. The two largest workrooms were crammed with all kinds of wood, driftwood, baskets filled with odds and ends, paints, templates, interesting bits and pieces of feathers, beads, etc. Also housed in these rooms are two jigsaws, three band saws, a variety of hand saws and other tools. At one time Polly had 22 workers in these rooms many from the Pleasant Hill Academy. Her favorite woods to work with are red cedar, buckeye, and white walnut. They used to be plentiful in the local sawmills, but now she must go to the Smokies to obtain good wood. She uses the power saws to cut the blanks of wood she will turn into her figures. Polly has worn out at least eight pocketknives, hand sharpening them daily and sometimes hourly. She used to be able to order them from Sears, then Penney's, and now has to specially order new ones.

Polly is excited to be included in a new book, "Tradition — Tennessee Lives and Legacies" by the Tennessee Arts Commission. The soon-to-be-published book consists of photo and text profiles of 26 subjects who preserve Tennessee’s folk art tradition. Polly has been invited to its inaugural presentation on Sept. 24 in the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga. In this book, the author says, “Polly Page is a living link to the inter-related Settlement School and Craft Revival movements in Tennessee.” In 1929 Polly Randolph, her twin sister, Christine, and three other siblings moved to Pleasant Hill with their widowed mother. She entered third grade at the Pleasant Hill Academy. Woodcarving was a special emphasis in the academy and she soon displayed a talent and passion for it.

Her teachers, Tom Brown and Margaret Campbell, had designed the dolls Uncle Pink and Aunt Jenny based on real mountain people of the area and taught the academy students how to carve the heads, hands, and make their jointed limbs. After the academy closed Polly worked with Margaret Campbell and Earl Clark in the Craft Shop working, teaching, or demonstrating her work. When the Pleasant Hill Community Center closed the Craft Shop, she built and opened Polly Page Craft Center on the edge of Pleasant Hill in 1969, where she still works almost daily. Although best known for her renditions of Uncle Pink and Aunt Jenny, Polly has designed and carved a myriad of other characters — Miss Hitty, Mark and Robin (based on her own children), families of ducks, pigs, and rabbits; the gossips; Tennessee walking horses; angels; the shy fox; and nativity scenes, among others. She has carved likenesses of her three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren when they were between ages 2 and 6.

Her dolls have traveled all over the world and reside in the Smithsonian, folk art museums, and even a doll museum in Havana, Cuba. In 1981, Dolly Parton brought Jane Fonda to get lessons from Polly Page in preparation for Fonda’s role in the film, The Dollmaker. Polly is working on her own book with her daughter Robin, which will certainly be considered a very important narrative about this special woman in this special place keeping this very special craft alive. As proud as she is of her art, she was almost equally as proud of a freezer full of fruits and vegetables that she has put up this summer. Call and ask to see her shop — she loves visitors, welcoming them with enthusiasm — (931) 277-3402.


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