NC State’s Gregg Museum of Art and Design held the opening reception Thursday for a new exhibit called “Southern Surreal.” It features pieces crafted by Tildon J. Stone, a North Carolina-based furniture maker with Lincoln County connections.
Known as T.J. to Rick Ramseur, his great nephew, Stone hand carved furniture that featured whimsical designs, secret drawers and an astonishing amount of detail. Eleven of the 22 pieces in the exhibit are from Ramseur’s collection that includes shelves, beds, desks, couches and clocks. Lucille Johnson, from North Brook, lent the museum a chair.
Among the pieces that Ramseur sent to Raleigh was a dragon couch, a whale table and a tall case clock.
Stone was a master furniture maker who traveled the world for 30 years as a Merchant Marine. During that time, he would visit China 37 times. It’s thought that he learned Chinese methods for creating intricate locking puzzle mechanisms that he incorporated into his pieces from carvers while in port.
Stone later settled in Lenoir to work as a chief designer and pattern-maker for large furniture companies, including Bernhardt and Broyhill.
Before his death in Lincolnton in 1952, Stone built a house shaped like a tramp steamer on the property at Woodside that featured portholes, a pointed bow and stacks. He was also responsible for constructing the shoe as a playhouse for a niece.
The Gregg Museum’s director Roger Manley met Ramseur over a decade ago when working a book called “Weird Carolinas.” He wanted to feature the shoe in the book, but it ultimately didn’t work that way. Instead Manley saw Ramseur’s extensive collection of Stone’s work. According to Ramseur, Manley wanted to become the first person to exhibit the furniture. “Southern Surreal” is the first time that Stone’s furniture has been exhibited in North Carolina.
Ramseur and his wife, Myra, provided the entertainment at the opening reception, incorporating a chisel that Stone used into a magic trick.
“That was the work for the show,” Ramseur said. “Trying to make it not just a show, but a story about him.”
At the reception, Ramseur met others who owned Stone furniture, including someone who made an interesting discovery that had been long hidden in an unknown secret compartment.
According to Ramseur, Stone had a benefactor for a time. James Murphy was a baseball scout and a brother of Charles Murphy who owned the Chicago Cubs from 1906-1913. When Murphy died, he left his collection of Stone's furniture to a neighbor.
Ramseur was able to track down the neighbor’s family members who still owned the furniture. He was told that when moving the a piece the family discovered a secret compartment that contained near mint condition baseball cards worth over $50,000.
Ramseur said that everything Stone did was over the top, but that wasn't appreciated by Ramseur's sister, whose bed was carved by Stone.
"It's was supposed to be vines growing out of a pot," Ramseur said. "He carved worms, snakes and lizards on the posts and that scared her so she was always afraid to sleep in her bed."
Gregg Museum of Art & Design is located at 1903 Hillsborough Street Raleigh, NC 27607
Admission is free. For more information visit: https://gregg.arts.ncsu.edu/exhibitions/