Ronnie Bradley remembers whittling as a very young child. “Let any little boy get ahold of a knife,” he says, “and he’s going to whittle.”
Bradley became part of a community tradition when he studied woodcarving in high school with North Carolina Heritage Award recipient Amanda Crowe. Crowe’s class at the high school helped revive the art of woodcarving among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Bradley remembers “Mandy” as a fine teacher and friend to her students, a mentor who encouraged their individual expression and creativity, but readily pointed out aspects of their work that needed improvement. Crowe’s high expectations helped foster the exacting standards to which Ronnie Bradley holds his own work today. He describes himself as a perfectionist in the extreme, spending many hours sanding each piece to achieve the silken finish that is one of the hallmarks of his work.
Ronnie Bradley is a member of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, where his work is offered for sale and exhibited in the co-op’s permanent collection. “The Sanctuary,” for example, is a sculpture in walnut-his favorite medium. It illustrates the elaborate stories of nature and interrelated lives that he hears from the wood and strives to portray. The sculpture shows a group of bears, adults and cubs, in various attitudes of play and relaxed contemplation. Bradley explains that the scene depicted is one of a safe haven to which mother bears can bring their cubs, and raise them without fear of the adult male bears who would harm them. Every one of his carvings, Bradley says, has its own tale.
Ronnie Bradley’s carvings, which he makes in his home workshop, can be seen and purchased at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee. Depending upon schedule and other circumstances, he will consider requests to demonstrate, or to teach workshops or lessons.