(The picture of Hamrick with the banjo is by Hickory's Fanjoy Labrenz Portrait Studio.)
When he was 6 years old, Hickory resident Eddie Hamrick wanted an electric train set for Christmas. His parents couldn’t afford it, so he built one himself out of wood. That was the beginning of Hamrick's long career as a master woodcarver and artist.
Hamrick was born into a North Carolina woodworking family. After graduating from Newton-Conover High School in 1972, he apprenticed for five years at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia before striking out on his own. His career as an independent woodworking artist was enhanced when in 1984 he was awarded an Emerging Artist Grant through the Durham Arts Council. Not only did the grant fund his artwork, it also bolstered his recognition as a craftsman.
By 2007 Hamrick's work was celebrated, he had spent ten years teaching at the John Campbell Folk School in western North Carolina, and he was a regular guest on PBS woodworking shows. Then, he died. “I had narcolepsy,” Hamrick said. “The doctors said I died." He obviously did not; but he lost his memory and it was uncertain whether he would ever work again. But a year later, “I started framing at Hobby Lobby. I started working with my hands again.” (Hickory Record Sept. 15, 2012) By now, Hamrick is fully back to his woodworking creativity.
Among Hamrick's many works over the years, he has crafted gifts for seven presidents starting with Gerald Ford, four North Carolina governors, Charlie Daniels the Southern Rocker, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. He carved a banjo out of maple and walnut for President Obama in 2012. In Hamick's own words, “I chose the banjo because it is our only American instrument. It is rich in African-American heritage and based on an instrument that came from Africa.” (Hickory Record Sept. 15, 2012) The Obama banjo is nicknamed Bluegrass One.
In April 2013, Hamrick personally presented Governor McCrory with a traveling desk that he carved out of Catawba County wood (curly walnut, bird’s-eye maple and curly maple) and modeled on the intricate travel desk that Thomas Jefferson designed for his own use.
As to the ornate bass he carved for President George H.W. Bush, Hamrick received a letter from The White House dated February 15, 1989, as follows,
Thanks a lot for your thoughtful letter and the woodcarving, “Master of the Stream.” Because I’m an avid fisherman, your gift holds special meaning for me.
It’s good to know of your dedicated efforts in helping the youth of our community and of your forthcoming woodworking demonstration for the benefit of Boy Scouts. I applaud your positive message to these young people – that hard work and faith in oneself can bring about a better life. You are certainly an outstanding example of this. Sincerely, George Bush
Master of the Stream is now part of the collection at the George H.W. Bush presidential library in College Station, TX. The library is one of the many collections that own Hamrick's works, among them the Smithsonian Institution. Hamrick has received numerous honors over the years, including being named NC Artist of the Year and NC State Craftsman.
“Eddie’s talents fit perfectly with Hickory’s Life. Well Crafted. brand,” said Mandy Pitts, City of Hickory Communications Director and Brand Manager. “Not only is Eddie a well-skilled artist with each piece demonstrating detail and craftsmanship, he is a shining example of the artistic culture in our community that is embedded in generations before us and also shows us our bright future that lies ahead.” (On Hamrick's being spotlighted as a "Doer and Maker" on theHickory.Well Crafted website.)
Hamrick's son James continues the family's woodwright tradition, having worked along with his father in their Hamrick Woodwright studio for more than ten years.
During HMA's 2015 Hamrick retrospective exhibit, Hamrick's face was on a billboard alongside Interstate 40 in Hickory, beckoning drivers to the Hickory Museum of Art through September 6, 2015. It showed Hamrick dressed as Geppetto, with a Hamrick-created sculpture of Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. UPDATE: In September 2017, HMA acquired the Pinocchio sculpture as a gift.
Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015.