WILLARD GAYHEART & FRIENDS
AT HOME IN THE BLUE RIDGE
Willard Gayheart is an American singer/songwriter and renowned pencil artist based in Galax, VA.
ERN & ZORRY'S SNEAKIN' BITIN' DOG
A SHORT FILM ABOUT WILLARD
The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, meanders its way through the hills of Southwest Virginia, a hotbed of bluegrass and old-time mountain music. It starts on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, then heads west on Route 58, tickling the border of North Carolina along the way, eventually finding its way up into the coalfields bordering Kentucky. Along the way, the road passes through significant—some might even say sacred—musical venues, both large and small, such as the Floyd Country Store, the Carter Family Fold, the site of the original Bristol Sessions (known as “the Big Bang” of country music), and the city of Galax, home of Barr’s Fiddle Shop and the longest running and largest of the many fiddlers’ conventions throughout the region. And if you travel the Crooked Road on Route 58, just a little east of Galax in the small town of Woodlawn, you might spot the Front Porch Gallery and Frame Shop, tucked in between a few other tiny businesses and Harmon’s Western Wear and Museum.
The Frame Shop is easy to miss, but if you’re lucky or keen enough to stop in you will likely be rewarded with a warm greeting and smile from the mild mannered 86-year-old Willard Gayheart, standing over his drafting table. “Go have a look around,” he will tell you gently, “and let me know if I can help you with anything.” You realize quickly that this is no ordinary frame shop. The walls are covered in deftly rendered pencil drawings of country people young and old, depicting every day moments that achieve a resounding level of resonance in the artist’s hand: an elderly couple canning peaches, a coal miner returning home from a day underground, a young child cradling his new puppy, or a grandfather guiding the hand of his granddaughter digging in the garden.
“That’s me and Dori, my granddaughter,” Willard says over your shoulder in his soft, gentle tone, and it’s then you realize for the first time that Willard is, in fact, the artist of these lovely works. “It’s one of my favorite ones I’ve done. It’s just a drawing of my little buddy and me doing things together.”
Willard’s drawings often depict a way of life that is rapidly disappearing in the hills surrounding Woodlawn—a blacksmith shoeing a mare, two elderly men twisting tobacco to hang and dry beside the barn, a man whittling a broom handle, or a band of moonshiners in the holler stoking a fire around a secret still. Yet while many old-fashioned skills and traditions have fallen prey to modern life in Appalachia, traditional mountain music—old time, bluegrass, mountain gospel, and ballads—have not merely survived, but in many ways have never been stronger, and it is this music and its players that have unquestionably served as Willard’s greatest muse. You spot one you know—Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Wayne Henderson—and you realize then the artist’s uncanny ability to catch their likeness. Locals will recognize lesser known masters from the region: Buddy Pendleton, Albert Hash, Roy Vass, Thornton Spencer, or Ralph Blizzard.
Toward the back of the shop you see some rows of seating, facing a small stage area with a few microphone stands, a few straight back chairs, and guitar cases. “You have live music here?” you ask. “Yes, nearly every Friday night,” he answers. “Me and my son-in-law Scott Freeman like to pick one now and then.”
Blue Hens Music : www.bluehenmusic.com
Gary Waldman/Morebarn Music : www.morebarnmusic.com
Devon Leger : www.hearthmusic.com
Brad Hunt : Bhsabres@aol.com