Virgil Ledford carves animal and human figures out of walnut, cherry, buckeye, and cedar, finishing them to a high gloss. A talented and prolific carver, Virgil Ledford has made his living as a carver for many years and enjoys offering demonstrations of his craft.
Growing up in the Birdtown community, Virgil Ledford heard stories about his great-grandfather Murphy, who “could carve anything he wanted.” Virgil attended Birdtown Day School and Cherokee High School, where he studied woodcarving with Amanda Crowe for three years. He credits her with teaching him how to create his own unique designs while basing them in the culture of his people. After high school, he continued to teach himself about woodcarving. Aside from two jobs he held as an auto mechanic in the 1960s, Virgil Ledford has made a living as a woodcarver for many years: “I didn’t know it was going to be my livelihood. It’s a God-given talent. I just made it work for me.” When he needs a break from carving, he tinkers with engines to keep up his mechanical skills.
Virgil Ledford has demonstrated woodcarving at Mountain Heritage Day in Cullowhee, and at events in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and in Clarksville, Georgia. He has carved many pieces on commission for private collections all across the country, and has also carved pieces for local churches. Some of his larger pieces depict historical and legendary Cherokee figures. His sculpture of Sequoyah was purchased by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the official opening of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee, and his sculpture of a Cherokee hunter with an eagle has became the official logo of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in 1975. In 1995 he received a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, and he has won prizes from the Ford Motor Company and the Cherokee Fall Fair for his carvings. Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, where he is a member and where he sells his carvings, has recognized Virgil Ledford with an award for his years of outstanding service.
Virgil Ledford will consider traveling anywhere to give a woodcarving demonstration, except during the summer, when he is generally not available. His fee is negotiable, and he must be compensated for travel expenses.