Riverwood Pewter’s origins date to 1930, when Ralph Morgan and his son, Ralph, Jr., learned the pewterer’s art at the Penland School of Crafts. The younger Ralph, who was a teenager at the time, was hired by his aunt Lucy Morgan, founder of the Penland School, to become the school’s first pewter instructor. Other duties took him out of the mountains for a few years, but all through college and medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a tour of duty in World War II, Morgan maintained his metalworking skills. In 1948 he moved to Sylva. The family business he founded in Dillsboro, Riverwood Pewter, is still in operation.
Dr. Morgan and his wife Ruth taught pewtering to a series of artists, most notably to brothers Ray and Dee Shook, who became resident artists at Riverwood for many years. When Ray Shook passed away in 1988, and then Dee Shook and Ralph Morgan in 1996 and ’97, respectively, the Morgans’ daughter Ruth McConnell-also a pewter-smith-became the owner and operator of Riverwood Pewter. She works alongside artisans Jim Graham and Clarence Robinson.
Riverwood’s work is done entirely by hand and using traditional methods, with the sole exception of the buffing wheel, their only electrical tool. Sheet pewter (from Rhode Island) is shaped by pounding it into molds with a wooden hammer sheathed in leather. If a piece is to be decorated with cut-out designs, as some of Riverwood’s work is (they specialize in dogwood motifs), the etching or sawing is done next, before applying the buffer. Finishing touches are then applied, and the piece is engraved with the Riverwood insignia, polished, and washed, before it is ready for sale.
Riverwood Pewter has been a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild since 1939.
Riverwood Pewter no longer operates a retail shop in Dillsboro, but their work is available online, and other locations such as at the Allanstand Craft Shop, the North Carolina Museum of History, and the Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro. Ruth McConnell will consider requests for demonstrations, private lessons, and classroom programs.