Hezzie Holden: Wood Worker
By Abigail Crew
MTSU/Seigenthaler News Service
Hezzie Holden, 71, is hard to miss. First, there’s the beard, snow white, full and reaching close to the pockets of his plaid shirt. And the eyebrows, so bushy and wild, lying like twin caterpillars above his blue eyes.
And there’s the Santa thing, for if he were wearing the red suit (which he does every December), kids would think he’s the real deal.
But on this hot spring day, Holden is dressed in short sleeves, sitting in the shade at Cades Cove Cellars doing what he does best: carving and talking. Since retirement as a firefighter in southern Louisiana, Holden moved with his wife to Townsend 13 years ago and found the place he never wants to leave.
Several days a week, he takes his mobile work-station containing his carving tools and sets up shop at various businesses in town where tourists are bound to gather –the winery, The Abbey, Ace Hardware and coffee shops.
Most of his pieces are made of poplar wood. This local wood, paired with Holden’s seasoned artisanship, appeals to the tourists who visit this small town.
“The tourists want something made in Tennessee,”said Holden.
Holden doesn’t call himself a whittler. He brings more passion to his craft than that name can convey. “I’m trying to get more into the artwork. A whittler just makes the shavings. When I get through, I do have artwork.”
After 25 years of perfecting his skills, he feels fulfilled. One glance around his humble work-station allows visitors to see carefully crafted canes, intricately carved hobbit houses and creatively decorated spirit faces.
“We subsidize our income, but we’re here because we like it,”said Holden as he described his life in Townsend.
Along with the handmade pieces of art, Holden invites people in with his smile and lively personality. He’s a good storyteller, too. Naturally, one came to mind.
For a time after college, his daughter came to Townsend and got a job as a waitress and became close friends with another waitress. His daughter later married an engineer and moved to her husband’s home country of Sweden. When Holden saw his daughter’s friend, he told her that his daughter had married a prince. He meant that his son-in-law was a “prince of a man.”
“She took it literally. So when he took pictures with the King of Sweden, I showed ‘em to her. To this day, it’s been five, six seven years, this girl thinks my daughter is married to a prince of Sweden. It was just a joke, but I never told her any different,” he said with a, well, jovial laugh.
“We have a lot of fun here, and I joke a lot with everybody,”said Holden.
When this friendly carver says goodbye to both customers and friends alike, he usually seals it with the words, “Have a blessed day.”
No one doubts he means it.
Abigail Crew is a Middle Tennessee State University journalism student. She is in Blount County as part of a feature writing class called the Road Trip Class.