Made in the South Awards

2010 Etc. Category: Overall Winner

From modern rocking chairs to strawberry jam, the winners of our first contest for craftsmen exemplify the South’s entrepreneurial spirit and a tradition of goods made right

photo: Brian Woodcock


Overall Winner

Jay Lichty
Product: Guitars
Made in: Tryon, North Carolina

Roughly fifteen months ago, Jay Lichty had a dream. No, really, he had a dream.

A professional home builder and woodworker from Tryon, North Carolina, who has also been a musician for thirty years, Lichty, now fifty-four, was asleep one night when the next phase of his life got delivered to him.

“I had this really vivid dream, where I was playing this small-bodied instrument,” he says. “It was like a small guitar, a really, really small guitar, and when I woke up the next day the dream just hung with me. So I decided to look into small guitars, and I hit on ukuleles. I now love ukuleles.”

Within days of his epiphany, Lichty had bought a ukulele and was learning to play it. He loved the experience. “But that first one I’d bought was a big version of ukulele,” he says, slightly sheepishly. “And then I wanted a small one, too…so I got one. Then I realized I’d bought two ukuleles in about two weeks. So the next week, when I saw another one I wanted to buy, I thought: It’s a recession, there’s not a lot of work for house building right now—why not save money and use your woodworking skills? Why don’t you try to make one?”

At this, Lichty has proved a natural. Before long, he was taking luthiers’ workshops around the Southeast, learning to build guitars and other stringed instruments from some of the region’s masters. When he attended a seminar with famed Virginia craftsman Wayne Henderson, it all clicked.

“I watched how Wayne worked,” Lichty says. “How his hands shaped the wood, how he trusted his hands to know when to stop shaving a brace or something. I watched very closely, and I thought, it’s all in trusting the hands.”

Since studying with Henderson, Lichty has never looked back. In the last fifteen months, he’s built twenty-five guitars and a handful of ukuleles, only a few of which still reside beneath his roof. “I guess you could say I’ve been busy,” he says. “It’s like I’ve found a new outlet for my life.”

When you see a Lichty guitar, his commitment to craft is obvious. He often mixes different woods, including exotics such as rosewood and koa, each with a different shade and grain, on various parts of the instrument’s body. With their sometimes muted, sometimes bold features, the guitars look like fine art.

So far, four professional musicians (including Doug Lancio, lead guitarist for John Hiatt) use Lichty guitars, and neither Lichty’s production capacity—working out of his shop in Tryon—nor his desire to learn has slowed since he first had The Dream.

“It’s funny,” he says, “this feels like what I was supposed to do when I grew up. I still have a lot to learn, but that’s how it is when you try to make something nice and make it by hand. Every instrument you make is its own thing; with each one you learn something. There’s a lot more to making a good guitar than working with wood.”

$1,200-$1,800
lichtyguitars.com

Etc. Runners-Up

Jason LaFerrera
Product giclee prints
Made in Mechanicsville, VA

At first glance, digital artist Jason LaFerrera’s pieces may look like straightforward field-guide renderings. But look closer and you’ll see that his birds, stags, snakes, foxes, rabbits, and others are constructed from old maps of the places they hail from. Highways run through wings, map legends perch on tails, lakes and rivers dot beaks and feet. “When I started, I felt like all digital art looked the same,” LaFerrera says. “With my work, I’m striving very hard to give the pieces a handmade quality.” Tapping into the vast catalog of historic maps available online, LaFerrera has created more than two hundred giclee prints, on watercolor paper, of his digital collages. And currently he’s hard at work on a series depicting state birds using state maps. John James Audubon would be proud.  

$40-$300. Laferrera.com

Red Bird Ink
Product Letterpress stationery
Made in Conyers, GA

Blame it on the advent of soulless e-mail messages, perhaps, but the centuries-old letterpress stationery technique is experiencing a renaissance. And Julia Farill is making some of the South’s most beautiful examples in the storefront of an old candy shop in Conyers, Georgia. Four years ago, she and her industrial designer husband, Collin, drove 1,800 miles to buy a Chandler & Price press, hauled the antique machine back home in a borrowed trailer, and slowly brought it back to life. Now, working the press by hand to create everything from custom wedding invitations to coasters made from antique wooden type is all in a day’s work. “For me the meditative quality of letterpress printing works as a counterbalance to the intensity of design,” Farill says. “From the first moment I got to use the press, I was hooked.”  

$4 – $1,000 redbirdink.com

Carr Amplifiers
Product guitar amplifiers
Made in Pittsboro, NC

Sure, it’s a perk that custom Carr amps have the retro good looks of the Elvis era, but at the end of the day, the crystal-clear sound is what really matters. That’s exactly why Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Fogerty, and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco are all owners of this boutique brand of guitar amplifiers hand made below the Mason-Dixon. Unlike exact mid-century reproduction amps, Carr amplifiers marry nuanced vintage sound with updated technologies, giving players the best of both worlds. “We try to figure out the great things about forties, fifties, and sixties amps and throw in some new twists,” says founder Steve Carr. “But our amps don’t have a whole lot of knobs or switches. They’re super-useful but very simple.”  

$1,250 – $3,290
carramps.com