Lyle Wheeler grew up in a family in rural northeastern Pennsylvania surrounded by woodworking and blacksmithing, and he continued to develop his own skills in these crafts when he moved to Wilkes County as a young man in 1978. One of Lyle’s grandfathers worked on chairs in a factory, and the other was a blacksmith and machinist. His great uncle owned and ran a sawmill, and he also did some blacksmithing to make livestock water troughs and other farm necessities. When Lyle read the first Foxfire Book, he became especially interested in the trades his grandfathers and great uncle had practiced.
He learned blacksmithing from his grandfather who started as a metal worker in a wagon shop when he finished the eighth grade and continued until automobiles took over the horse and wagon industry. Lyle visited his grandfather in his later years to learn all he could about blacksmithing. Now, Lyle uses this knowledge to teach classes and assist master blacksmith instructors at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown.
Around 1983, Lyle took a course on chair making with John Alexander, a chair maker from Baltimore. The course helped refresh his woodworking skills, and Lyle developed a serious interest in traditional woodworking. He sought out some of the old-time chair makers in the Wilkes County area, such as Raymond Reavis and Edd Presnell‘s uncle. Lyle has continued making chairs in a regional style that features woven seats. He often weaves chair seats with basket reed that is commercially available, but he can also weave seats with the more traditional white oak splits or hickory bark.
Lyle teaches chair making at John C. Campbell and other places. He is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and specializes in the tools, technique, and style of the period between 1860-1890. He uses all hand tools, and he can demonstrate how to make a chair out of a log by hand. Although he worked for years as an engineer in industrial microwave technology, he has made his full-time living as a chair maker since 1989.
Lyle is available for workshops and demonstrations or to display at craft shows, festivals, and fairs. He demonstrates at the North Carolina State Fair and Moses Cone Mansion on the Blue Ridge Parkway.