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Local woodworker becomes farmers market celebrity

The “shouter” for the farmers market, Bear Anderson, put passion into wood working. (H&T file photo)

Bear Anderson keeps himself busy with several different occupations.

He’s a woodworker, spending long hours hand-crafting kitchen tools, decorative items, even musical instruments. He’s also a volunteer firefighter in Embreeville, drawing on his experience fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service out west for nearly 20 years.

But at 8 a.m. sharp each Saturday morning, Anderson is something like a town crier.

From his post at the Main Street entrance to the Jonesborough Farmers Market, he cups his hands around his mouth, arches back, and shouts at the top of his lungs, “Good morning farmers market!”

Chuckling at the applause from fellow vendors and devoted shoppers at a recent market event, Anderson explained the origin of this particular job.

“I just did it goofing around one time last summer, but it caught on,” he said. “Now, his announcement signaling the opening of the market is a much-loved tradition among the market community.

Anderson, who calls his woodworking business Grizzwood, has been selling his goods at the Jonesborough market for three years, and practicing the trade in one form or another for much longer.

“My dad was a master woodworker when I was a kid,” he said. “I just started hanging out in his shop, and it was always a hobby.

When he began to invest serious time in the craft 20 years ago, Anderson’s main focus was furniture.

“Then it started bugging my back,” he said. “That’s when I started all of this.”

He points to the assorted items on his vendors table: cutting boards, pizza peels, dough bowls, cooking utensils, jewelry, candle holders, hummingbird homes, and decorative carvings.

The collection is made mostly from ash, black walnut, and poplar wood; Anderson said at least 90 percent of the wood comes from the forest on his own land or fallen limbs his neighbors let him take.

Until moving back to his native east Tennessee four years ago, Anderson and his wife, Karen, were running the business from California, but shipping most of their finished products to regional tourist attractions like Gatlinburg.

“We had been trying to get out of California for a while,” Anderson said.

Ever since a broken neck ended Anderson’s professional firefighting career in 1999, he had been trying to create a full-time business out of his woodworking, but wood supply in his part of California was limited.

“You kind of had to scrounge for good wood, getting extra from other woodworkers,” he said.

Since most of their business centered around Tennessee anyway, the Andersons decided to make the cross-country move, and have yet to be disappointed in their decision.

“The amount of great wood I can get around here, for free even, makes it so much easier,” he said.

In addition to setting up at the farmers market, which he said was “amazing for business,” Anderson also keeps a Grizzwood gift shop open during the week. What he brings to the market represents about a quarter of the total products he has available for sale at any time.

“One of the things I’m known for is that I think I’m the only person in the country who does this shadow-imaging work by hand,” he said, showing an intricate image of a train carved from a single piece of wood. “People can bring me a photo, like a wedding photo or a scenic photo, and I can kind of pull out the shadow imaging that I think will make the picture work.”

Anderson then transfers that free-hand drawing of the photos image to wood, and meticulously carves each detail in a process known as fret work.

“I look for what’s going to bring out the most character and personality, and emphasize that,” he said.

In addition to their beauty, Anderson’s products offer functionality.

“I get a lot of custom orders for massive cutting boards and countertops, people looking for an exact size,” he said. “And I also get requests from people who do a lot of canning to make utensils with long handles, because they go into Wal-Mart and can only find them with short handles.”

Anderson warns his customers that as durable as the products are, they should stay out of the dishwasher.

“People sometimes bring me back a cutting board in two or three pieces for repair,” he said. “But they swear they’re never the ones that put them in the dishwasher, it’s always their spouses.

To contact Bear Anderson, visit him at the Jonesborough Farmers Market or call (423) 913-3128.