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Ex-Welder Handcrafting Dulcimers


Swanner’s son, Joey, also gave him storm-damaged trees on property he owned in Prospect, Tenn.

“They gave them to me if I would just go in and get them,” Swanner said. “I had a portable sawmill come to me. The trees were on the ground, and I hated to see them ruin.”

He stacked the lumber in his barn and never thought about building anything with it, certainly not four-string dulcimers, the small instrument picked while lying flat on players’ laps, tabletops or floors.

“I cut the lumber to sell, and I dabbled it out as people dropped in to buy it,” he said.

Now, 71 dulcimers later, including the first one he made from a sassafras tree about six years ago, Swanner considers his lumberjack days a good deal after all.

A 1958 graduate of Tanner High School, Swanner, 72, retired as a welder at Monsanto in 1996 after more than 28 years. He had never played a musical instrument until he and his wife, Janice, fell in love with the sound of a dulcimer a decade ago.

They were camping at Tanniehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla when they passed a group strumming their instruments. They decided to invest in dulcimers and learn to play.

Their interest intensified when they joined a club, The Athens Dulcimers, which meets the first and third Thursday night of each month at the Athens Recreation Center.

“As my wife and I traveled to festivals in Alabama and Mississippi, some of the players told me they built their own dulcimers, and I began to see them for sale at the various events,” Swanner said. “Then I thought, ‘I’ve got the wood for sure, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it? And building dulcimers would be an interesting hobby.’ ”

He launched the craft in his workshop on his farm in Legg-town as cattle grazed in the pasture. More than two years ago, he sold out and made the move to the city, something he said he would never do.

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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