Collections: No Small Fleet
Art isn’t the only thing on display at Bob Timberlake’s North Carolina studio. The space is also home to a flotilla of paddling history
If there is such a thing as a famous canoe in the South, this is it. Clad in birch bark, spackled with red clay mud from North Carolina, the boat was paddled across High Rock Lake by Iron Eyes Cody, the famous “crying Indian” of the old “Keep America Beautiful” television campaign. It now hangs in the Lexington, North Carolina, gallery of artist and furniture designer Bob Timberlake, who saw the canoe nearly forty years ago while on a father-son canoe trip.
“That’s the one that did it,” the seventy-four-year-old Timberlake says with a chuckle. “I’d been collecting canoe miniatures all my life, but that old birch-bark canoe really sparked my interest in gathering up the full-size boats.” His flotilla today is perhaps the largest and most important private collection of antique canoes and rowboats in the South.
A protégé of Andrew Wyeth’s, Timberlake has enjoyed an astonishing career based on artistic expressions of both form and function. In 1973 he was the first artist to sell out a one-man exhibition at the prestigious Hammer Galleries in New York, and ever since he’s been one of North Carolina’s most prodigious painters and designers. His introduction of the World of Bob Timberlake collection of home furnishings in 1990 was an enormous success. And he’s launched a new furniture collection with Hickory, North Carolina–based Century Furniture.
All of these endeavors—be they canvases or case goods—spring from an obsession with sporting pursuits and a love of nature. Timberlake is an avid quail and turkey hunter and a die-hard trout angler. His interest in canoes is rooted in a childhood spent roaming the woods and old tenant farm fields of North Carolina’s rolling, rural Davidson County. When his older brother, Tim, joined the Boy Scouts, Timberlake was fascinated with his trips to the woods. “Before I could say ‘paddle’ or ‘hatchet,’ I would draw and paint outdoor scenes, and imagine myself out there.”