Growing up in Haywood County, David Burnette was drawn to the old ways that he learned from elders in his community. His father, Albert Burnette, was a generation older than most of his friends’ fathers, so the stories he heard and the skills he learned dated to a time around the turn of the century when, as David says, “If you wanted something, you either made it or you did without.” He absorbed old stories and sayings while spending “lots of nights on different mountaintops, foxhunting” with his father and his father’s friends.
Eager to learn the skills that his father’s generation practiced, and being particularly interested in forestry, David learned logging and traditional kinds of sawing from neighbors, such as Quay Smathers, who taught him how to make board shingles. When David was twelve, he built his first log cabin.
His taste in music tends towards the sounds of an earlier day. When his friends were listening to rock and roll, David was listening to the Skillet Lickers and Uncle Dave Macon. He learned old-time and bluegrass music, and is a great clawhammer banjo player.
David Burnette devotes his energies to teaching and sharing the traditions that his elders shared with him. He teaches blacksmithing at Haywood County Community College, and does blacksmith demonstrations at festivals and fairs. He and his son, with whom he also plays music, have given demonstrations, at the Cradle of Forestry and area plow days, of logging with horses and plowing with oxen. He taught a troop of boy scouts how to make a horse- or mule-pulled work sled of the kind that was ubiquitous on mountain farms before automobiles. David does custom work and demonstrations with a handset (small, manually-operated) sawmill.
David also carries on traditional methods of making and preserving food. In the late summer and early fall, he makes molasses and hominy at his farm, inviting the public on the first three Saturdays after Labor Day. “I always try to help people,” he says, “and pass on knowledge if I possibly can.”
David Burnette is available for demonstrations, consultations, classroom programs for any age, and guided tours. He makes molasses on the first three Saturdays after Labor Day, and plows the garden at the Cradle of Forestry in April.