News from the Tennessee Valley News

Ronnie Thomas

Joe Marsh shows one of his latest bowls from his wood shop to Marjory Irwin, a family friend, Nov. 30 at his home on Rockhouse Road.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Joe Marsh shows one of his latest bowls from his wood shop to Marjory Irwin, a family friend, Nov. 30 at his home on Rockhouse Road.

A bowl or a book? Joe Marsh Jr. produces crafts, publishes tales

Shavings spin from the butt of a Tupelo gum tree off the old 12-inch wood lathe and pile up at Joe Marsh Jr.'s feet.

Marsh, 85, is in his backyard shop at Locust Hill Farm off Rockhouse Road, about three miles southeast of Mooresville, churning out another prized bowl produced with a craftsman's touch.

He makes most of the bowls from timber he cuts on his property. In addition to the Tupelo gum, he used the wood of cherry, black walnut and Osage orange trees. But he had to go to market for the aspen wood he mixed with cherry and black walnut for a colorful "stack" bowl.

Joe Marsh Jr. in his workshop with two of his handcrafted bowls.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Joe Marsh Jr. in his workshop with two of his handcrafted bowls.
He points to a bowl he made from "spalted" or deteriorating wood from a box elder tree given to him by a friend who ran a sawmill near Pulaski.

"It gives you a unique design, I think like no other," he said.

And Marsh has designs on innumerable topics. Little wonder, then, that the man who had never written much of anything past school and college assignments finally pushed aside his bowl work long enough to self-publish a book, "My Life in a Changing World."

He packed the 218-page book with interesting vignettes.

"I wanted to leave history for the younger generation," he said. "I've seen more change in my generation than most will ever experience."

Much of Marsh's life entwines with the rich history of the Tennessee Valley. He recalls riding a horse-drawn buggy with his parents and siblings and fording Beaver Dam and Limestone Creek "somewhere south of Mooresville" on the way to Decatur. They crossed the Tennessee River at McDaniel Ferry, "up river from Rhodes Ferry."

He watched construction of Keller Memorial Bridge, which opened in 1928.

Marsh remembers the Tennessee Valley Authority buying more than 100 acres of his grandmother's farm on which the house and barns were located; land the agency flooded with the building of Wheeler Dam. Marsh's father got some of the contracts from TVA to clear debris and burn it.

"Dad would take us boys with him, and sometimes we would burn brush and log piles all day long," Marsh said. "Then after supper, we would go back to round up the fires. Sometimes we would go to sleep by the fires, and Daddy would come around and wake us up."

Writes about memories

In the book, Marsh writes about numerous memories of farm life and attending Tanner High School, where he played six-man football. He attended Athens State College for a short time before expanding his horizons.

The first ocean he saw was the one farthest away. He traveled to Los Angeles, gazed upon the Pacific and found work as a "skin fitter," fitting aluminum sheets to the bodies of airplanes. Before landing that job at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, he applied at Hughes Aircraft. There in a hallway, he saw Howard Hughes, years before he became a billionaire.

Seeing famous people

Marsh kept bumping into famous people, sometimes without realizing it. He and a fellow employee pulled into a service station one night to get a closer look at a car like they had never seen.

"Soon, this black-headed fellow came out of the station and said, 'Boys, how do you like my car?' We spoke but didn't pay much attention to him because we were awe-struck by the car," Marsh said. "He drove off and the attendant came out and asked us if we knew who that guy was. 'Well,' he said, 'You just said hello to Clark Gable.' "

And the car, Marsh later discovered, was the actor's favorite, a 1935 Duesenberg SJ coupe that weighed two tons, had a 250 horsepower straight-8 engine and could reach 140 mph.

As Marsh continues turning out bowls of all descriptions, his mind invariably shifts to his latest skill— writing. He is planning a sequel.

"I couldn't begin to tell my story in just one book," he said.

Book available

Joe Marsh Jr.'s book, "My Life in a Changing World," is available at Pablo's on Market Street in Athens; Limestone Bay Trading Co. Inc., a restaurant in Mooresville; and at Bankstreet Antiques Books and Collectibles in Decatur. The book is $15.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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