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art frThere’s only one thing Tim Hall isn’t sure of.

“Well, I don’t really know my age, but if I had to guess, I’d say I’m somewhere around 70 years old,” he chuckled.

Sitting in The Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians in downtown Bryson City, Hall reminisces about his childhood in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. He grew up in a poor family, like many others in that time and place, but that never deterred them from enjoying life, from sharing in its grace and beauty — sharing in storytelling and oral traditions.

“When granddaddy told a story to us kids, we were enthralled,” he said. “And maybe we had already heard that story four or five times, but it didn’t matter, because each time always felt new, always with some other nuance or piece added into it.”

These days, Hall is a storyteller in his own right. He opened the center a decade ago, a location where folks from all over wander in, sit down and immerse themselves in the lore of Southern Appalachia. His drive to preserve and perpetuate the stories of Western North Carolina comes from a deep love of the mountains, a fire that has burned within him since he first visited the area some 60 years ago.

“The mountaineer of the Southern Appalachians is rapidly disappearing, the Southern Highlander is no more,” he said. “And I swore to myself long ago that I’d keep that heritage alive.”

Throughout the year, Hall spins his web of tales, with many Christmas-themed ones soaking into audience’s ears this holiday season. Alongside the storytelling, he also dons another cap — Appalachian toymaker. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, he carves and hammers away at innumerable small toys that ultimately find their way into the hands of curious and captivated children.

“I make toys so that children can come in and actually watch somebody make their toy,” he said. “The smile on their faces as they watch you and then you hand them the toy — there’s no feeling like it.”

 

On the road

Hall dropped out of high school and hit the open road. He traveled every state in the continental United States, working odd jobs and bouncing around, seeing what it was all about, ultimately searching for himself in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, he entered the Army during Vietnam and became a sniper. He served his time and then found himself working in electronics, computers mostly, which led him around the world.

“I went all over designing, developing, maintaining and troubleshooting electronic equipment,” he said. 

But, as the years wore on, a voice within Hall couldn’t be silenced. He was out in the open world, but what he missed most was the mountains. And though it would be many moons before he heeded that call, he never ignored the urge to head for the hills.

Over a decade ago, Hall relocated to Bryson City. He spent years combing the back roads and backrooms of Southern Appalachia for old-timers and their stories. He camped out on the side of the road, wandering the mountains, always ready to hear what anyone had to say.

“I traveled and became reacquainted with my roots in the mountains. I learned to do the hardest thing — to listen,” he said. “I listened to people tell stories, listened to the old storytellers sitting on the liars bench outside the general stores, listened to storytellers in the valleys and atop the peaks, sitting around the potbellied stoves.”

 

The art of the Smokies

Hall took what he had learned and observed and began crafting it into his own art of spoken word. With The Storytelling Center, he opened the doors to a forgotten era, a time and place that all too often got swept under the rug of time. 

“Storytelling is an absolute great responsibility, and at the same time it’s a mission and a passion for me. One of things that endears me to everyone that comes in here is the fact that people come here and listen to the stories, they will invariably leave with a kinder and gentler atmosphere,” he said. “They say it’s like home here, it’s like what they remember, and that’s the biggest accolade that I could get. They go back to their youth just by listening to my stories. I open that door to the library of reminiscing in their head.”

About five years ago, Hall took up toy making. Woodworking was a skill that ran deep in his family, with both his granddaddy and great-granddaddy using their hands to craft household items and toys. As a kid, Hall remembers watching his granddaddy handing him a piece of wood and telling the youngster to hold it as tightly as possible. Hall was told of the oil in his hands and how he was now a part of that piece of wood, always.

“Granddaddy said you sweat when you work, and you may cut yourself carving with a drop of blood on that wood, and that now you will forever be in that piece,” he said. “When you craft something, you craft it with all of your ability. And when someone takes home one of your pieces, you’re now a part of their lives.”

Nowadays, one can stroll into the center almost daily and hear Hall tell a tale or watch him put together another Christmas toy. He has become a fixture in the town of Bryson City and beyond. You’ll see him stroll downtown, pipe hanging from his mouth, a large white beard draping from his face like Saint Nick himself. It’s a casual stroll, one where you have the time to truly ponder nothing and everything, the natural beauty of the Smokies and our place in it. 

Hall has come full circle in his quest to preserve the mountain man, their character, their ideals and, most of all, their stories.

“My performance is sitting in that rocking chair and painting a picture in someone’s mind,” Hall smiled. “I am a catalyst to their youth, the fond memories of their lives.”

 

 

Want to go?

Appalachian toymaker and storyteller Tim Hall will be demonstrating his craft at The Storytelling Center across from the Train Depot in Bryson City. 

Toy making will take place at 11 a.m. Dec. 4-7, Dec. 10-12, 1 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20, and at 2 p.m. Dec. 14-19 and 21-24. As well, the center is also putting up their “Children’s Tree.” Each time a child comes into the center, they make a paper ring to place on the tree. As of press time, Hall has collected over 2,700 rings, which will be strewn around the tree. All names and rings will be noted online at their Facebook page (search: The Storytelling Center of the Southern Appalachians in Bryson City).

828.488.5705 or www.greatsmokies.com.

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