[Masthead] Fair ~ 64°F  
High: 81°F ~ Low: 63°F
Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Carved into memory

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wagons, tractors and Jeeps were among Daddy Ben's favorite subjects to carve.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty) [Order this photo]
Creating art is a very private pursuit for many artists. Some don't even think of their creations as artwork.

Of course, this isn't the only reason that some artists' works are only recognized posthumously, but it's definitely a factor.

Ben Cartwright was one of those folks who preferred to keep his artwork to himself and his family. "Daddy Ben," as his family called him, probably would've been more likely to tell you that he carved as a hobby, or that he was just good with his hands.

Mama Lila and Daddy Ben Cartwright on their 50th anniversary.
(Submitted photo)
Life of love

Ben married his soulmate Lila Reed in 1948. Mama Lila -- as she's known around here -- stayed by Ben's side for 63 years until his passing last year. They had three children together, Karen Smotherman, Kenneth Cartwright and Dr. Kathy Philyaw. Ben and Lila chose to keep Bedford County as their home for the entirety of the time together.

Last year was a tough time for the Cartwright family. Ben had been in and out of three hospitals while he battled pneumonia.

After hospital stays in Shelbyville, Murfreesboro and Nashville, Ben came home on a Friday and passed the next Thursday. His return home before passing comforted the family. They knew he was in a serene place.

After Daddy Ben went to his home beyond the skies, Mama Lila brought some of his carvings to display at the funeral home visitation. She knew how much he loved to whittle, and wanted to share his carvings with visitors.

Surprise discovery

The large collection of wooden trucks, tractors, wagons, animals, spinning wheels, furniture, tools, checkerboards and toy guns of all shapes and sizes amazed Daddy Ben's mourners. They had no clue of the scope of his craftiness.

"They were surprised at the visitation," said Mama Lila. "He didn't carry [his carvings] anywhere. He liked to keep them to himself or give them away as presents."

For Daddy Ben, whittling was a labor of love that caught his attention as a teen. For teenaged Ben, the airplanes of World War II were his first carving inspiration.

While Ben never sought attention or publicity for his craft, he always enjoyed showing and talking about his works with visitors who had questions or compliments for him. His family and many friends have cherished his work, and have items proudly displayed in their homes.

"I'm not sure who got the most enjoyment," said Mama Lila, "Ben when he made them, or all of us when we look at them and show them to others."

Back to work

Adult life left Daddy Ben with less and less time to carry on his carving hobby. The pressures of providing for his family and keeping up his farm kept him from whittling away at his projects until his middle age.

The display case at Argie Cooper Public Library was full of Daddy Ben's carvings, much to the joy of the library's many young visitors.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty)
"He started back in the 1970s when he had more time," said Mama Lila. "He loved it, though. He'd come home, eat supper, do what he had to get done, then start whittling.

"He'd see something, and say that he wanted to make it," she explained. "I wondered how he even held some of the things he carved. They were so small and detailed."

Margaret Petty is the wife of Jamie Petty, one of the Cartwright grandsons. She calls Daddy Ben's carvings a "lost art." And with society's impatient tendencies today, it's hard to disagree.

Nowadays, most woodworking is done with computer numerical control machines to cut out standardized items quickly. People simply don't want to spend the time it takes to carve a block of wood into a three-dimensional piece of artwork.

Art of patience

"People were always amazed at what he could do with just an old piece of wood," said Jamie. "One day, it would just be a stick, then the next day, a little boy's favorite toy.

"I remember him having so much patience," he continued. "Each piece took so much time. Making the pattern, cutting the wood out, and then shaping it by hand until it was just right. He never got in a hurry, and that is what always stood out to me."

"Kids today can't talk much about watching their grandfather take a simple piece of wood, and make it into a replica of their newest toy gun. But Jamie can," explained Margaret. "I'm thankful that [Jamie] has these memories, and hope that kids of today will have similar ones when they're grown."

New exhibit

Margaret is the Circulation and Technology Specialist at Argie Cooper Library, and recently set up a display case of Daddy Ben's carvings at the library to share with the many children that visit daily. It served as a great tribute to a man's handiwork, and the boys who took note of his Jeeps, airplanes and toy guns were enriched for it.

"I wish every child could have the experience of a grandfather like him," Jamie said. "After my dad passed away, he filled that spot for me, too. We did everything together. From an early age, he was my best buddy, and I wouldn't trade those days for anything. I am who I am today largely because of the type of man he was and what he taught me."

The enjoyment of Ben's work didn't stop with Jamie. Daddy Ben and Mama Lila's other grandchildren, Ben and Katie Philyaw, Ash Cartwright, and Jonathan and Jared Smotherman may not have had to chance to watch their grandfather whittle, but have delighted in playing with his handmade toys.

Lasting memories

Daddy Ben's carvings may not gain worldwide exposure posthumously like Vincent van Gogh's paintings or Edgar Allan Poe's stories. To family and friends, however, his creations are a wonderful reminder of the man they loved. Physical memories that they can touch, feel and reminisce with whenever they please.

"Now that he's gone, when I look at his carvings it takes me back to when I was a little boy watching him and listening to his stories," Jamie said. "I learned a lot -- patience, hard work, pride in a job well done, and to always enjoy what you do."

Rest assured, Daddy Ben is in Heaven witnessing new celestial subjects to whittle while he waits for the rest of his company to arrive.Wagons, tractors and Jeeps were among Daddy Ben's favorite subjects to carve.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: