By Jessica Mozo
“I never could draw or paint,” he says meekly.
But the cattle farmer and retired meter reader for Duck River Electric Co. can do amazing things with nothing more than a rock-hard, wrinkly peach seed and a pocketknife. Smith has been carving intricate, whimsical figurines out of peach seeds for 40 years.
Peach seed carving hobby came naturally
“I got out of the service in 1968, and I ate a peach one day on a break from work,” he recalls. “I took out my pocketknife and started carving a little pig out of the seed. I continued carving pigs, and then I did a dog. I just kept seeing what else I could make.”
Before long, Smith was carving detailed donkeys, elephants, butterflies, penguins and even people out of peach seeds. Eventually he began carving entire scenes from multiple peach seeds, including a pig farm and a baseball stadium with players on the field, spectators in the bleachers and cars in the parking lot. Smith’s baseball stadium includes more than 100 figurines.
“I like to make people best,” he says. “They’re harder than animals, but I like to put different expressions on their faces and put their hands behind their back or cross their arms to make them realistic.”
Quality carvings take time
Smith estimates each peach seed carving takes him between four and eight hours to make.
“I never complete one in one sitting – I always work on a few at a time,” he says. “I set them down and come back to them later.” Smith started carving things when he was just a kid.
“I’ve always carried a pocketknife,” he says. “The first thing I made was a rooster out of a forked tree limb. Then I started making stagecoaches, horses and dogs out of soft pine apple-crate boxes.”
He even dabbled in chainsaw carving, but he later carved out a niche, so to speak, with peach seeds.
“I was never able to buy gadgets to do really large carvings, so I just stuck with peach seeds,” Smith says.
Museums display the fruits of his labor
Despite how trivial he makes them sound, Smith’s peach seed carvings have garnered quite a bit of attention. They are on display at the African American Museum in Ohio as well as at the Tennessee State Museum.
And in 1993, Smith was invited to participate in Christmas at the White House, where his peach seed Santa Claus hung on the tree and became part of the White House ornament collection.
“That was probably the greatest honor of my life,” Smith says. “President and Mrs. Clinton sent me a thank-you card and a picture of it on the tree.”
Word about his talent spread during Smith’s 23 years working as a meter reader.
“I’d go around and read the meters, and people would leave bags of peach seeds hanging on the meter,” he says. “I’ve got barrels and barrels of them.”
Smith sells his carvings at the Tennessee Association of Craft Artists’ Spring Craft Fair in Nashville. They range in price from $20 for a single figurine to several thousand dollars for entire scenes.
Most of the carvings are completely made from peach seeds, although some incorporate other elements from nature. Smith uses rattlesnake ribs, for example, for elephant tusks and buffalo horns.
“I like carving because it’s a challenge, and people always ask me for new items,” he says. “Several have asked me to do a nativity scene, so I’ll probably work on that next.”
Even with all the attention he has received, Smith remains remarkably humble.
“People say it’s amazing, and I thank God for the talent,” he says. “But I feel anybody could do it if they took the time. For me, it’s just something to do.”