Ike Carpenter is a third generation woodcarver, cabinetmaker, and carpenter who lives in the small Edgefield County town of Trenton. His grandfather was known throughout the area as a talented carpenter and his father took up wood carving at the age of fifteen. Carpenter explains that “wood is our life…it’s in our blood.” He notes jokingly that, with a last name like “Carpenter,” it is quite likely that his family’s preoccupation with wood goes way back.
Carpenter will carve on anything. He even makes miniature sculptures out of peach seeds. Peach seed carvings are a part of a larger tradition found in agricultural areas throughout the Southeast, especially in South Carolina and Georgia. With these whimsical miniatures, farmers make the most of local resources, even the seeds of their peach crop.
Carpenter is best known for making a special kind of traditional carving called the “ball and chain.” These particular carvings, also called “ball and cage,” are extremely difficult to make. These pieces, which are designed to show off a carver’s virtuosity, are made entirely out of one piece of wood that has not been sawed, glued, or pieced together.
In addition to learning the art of woodcarving from his family, Carpenter apprenticed for eight years with John Mathis, a master cabinetmaker who taught at the De La Howe School near McCormick, South Carolina. During this time, Carpenter learned all of the stages of traditional furniture making including the shaping of felled trees using only hand tools like the adze, axe, and shaving horse.
Carpenter enjoys talking informally with his customers about carving and regularly gives public demonstrations of his craft. He has been involved with organizations like Drayton Hall and participates in the annual McCormick Heritage Festival. His love of woodworking also takes him into local schools on a regular basis, where he shares his skills with children of all ages. Recipient of the 1996 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award.