Wood that tells a story


Britanie Morgan

Greg Cartwright shows off his one-of-a-kind pens to the patrons at the Capitol on West Virginia Day.

Greg Cartwright of Grafton, West Virginia was the only artisan at the West Virginia Day celebration in Charleston this weekend.  He became a Tamarack artisan in March, which qualified him to sell in the gift shop in the Cultural Center at the West Virginia State Capitol starting in July.

Cartwright was asked by the gift shop management to set up a booth at the celebration. He said he was honored to participate.

“I think it’s quite an honor for me to be the only artisan here today, on West Virginia Day, to help celebrate the history of our state,” he said.

Cartwright’s primary craft is wooden pens made out of “wood of interest” from across West Virginia.

“I make the pens and my goal is to get wood from all 55 of the counties in West Virginia and right now I have 28,” Cartwright said. “I have about 180 different woods in my collection representing those 28 counties.”

Cartwright said one set of pens he is proud of is his Marshall line.

“My Marshall pens are not just engraved with the Marshall logo but this wood came from the Morrow Library,” he said. “When they did some of the renovations and changed some of the function of Morrow they actually took out some of the maple shelving that was original to the library. So that’s where this wood came from.”

His other Marshall pen is carved from the wood of a walnut tree removed from the front lawn of Old Main in 1999.

“A gentleman that I met just a couple months ago actually harvested the whole tree including the roots and he gave me a piece of it,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright said he has been a “hobby woodworker” for a while, but he didn’t start out with pens. He originally made furniture for his family and just made a few pens out of the scraps.

It was not until he showed the pens to a friend that he was introduced to wood with a story.

“I showed them to a friend I had in Webster County and he said ‘Greg these are pretty but I have some wood you’d like’,” Cartwright said.

His friend gave him wood from a log home built in Greenbrier County in 1820 right after the civil war.  He said the first owners added a porch. In 1999 the people that owned the house at that point hired his friend and his crew to restore it to its very original condition.

When the crew started to tear the porch off they did not recognize the wood on the floor so it was sent to West Virginia University’s Forestry Department and they identified it as black locust and carbon dated it to be 150 years old.

“I think that is such a cool story to know that that wood was put in right after the civil war and to know that its been carbon dated,” Cartwright said. “The really cool part was the columns that held up the porch roof. They were this beautiful old walnut.”

Cartwright said that about three weeks later he was helping another friend and he saw some of his pens and told him he had some wood he would like and he had learned his lesion so he asked what kind.

His friend had wood from the Philippi covered bridge, the sight of the first land battle of the civil war.

Cartwright said after that he was hooked.

“The combination of those two stories actually hooked me on finding wood with a story,” Cartwright said. “So I now aggressively try and find wood from different places that has historical significance of some kind.”

Cartwright said he wants to use his craft to preserve the history of West Virginia in a way that is unique to him.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to help preserve the history of our state,” he said. “I’m a West Virginian through and through and I really like helping preserve it and this is an opportunity for me to tell the story about my wood.”

Along with his Marshall collection Cartwright has a wide variety of wood, including some from the church where the first mother’s day service was held in Grafton in 1908 and from the Great Hall in Arthurdale, that Eleanor Roosevelt inspired as part of the new deal, he said she actually danced on that floor.

Cartwright has been making the pens for 3 years.

Britanie Morgan can be contacted at [email protected].