Carvings Make Grand Entrance for Wife's Antique-Filled Rooms
By Scott Barker
The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Visitors to the Park Grill in Gatlinburg are frequently curious
about the craftsman who created the two sets of double doors for the restaurant. The doors,
featuring carved trees set in relief against the glass make a distinctive entrance for the massive
log structure. If patrons attempt to satisfy their curiosity, they'll be directed to the Old Curiosity
Shop in Townsend.
They'll know they're in the right place when they pull into the Shops at Nawger Nob and find a door similar to those at the Park Grill. Behind it, they'll find more than they bargained for.
John Wilbourn, the artist who created the doors, may be there, but if he's not, his wife Debbie probably will be. She greets people with a smile and a glass of gourmet muscadine juice. The Old Curiosity Shop, an antique store open just a few months, is the couple's first foray into retail business.
"It's a new adventure to open a little shop," says, an interior designer delighted to be able to indulge her passion for antiques.
Embarking on new adventures is a bug that's recently bitten the two. In addition to running the antique store, they are renovating a 19th century farmhouse and helping one of their daughters, Sarah open a cafe and catering business at the Southern Market on Homberg Drive in Knoxville.
Wilbourn says it takes about a month to complete each of his distinctive doors. When he gets a commission, he presents drawings to his clients for their approval. He then cuts the pattern out of composite board and begins hand carving various woods. When finished, each door is painted and signed.
Looking around the shop stimulates more questions. Like, what about the realistic lily pond, complete with fish flashing beneath the surface, painted on the floor?
It turns out Wilbourn's a painter as well as a woodworker.
"When it's photographed it looks real," says Wilbourn, who's willing to pull out a collection of photographs to show any skeptics.
He describes his woodcarving as a natural outgrowth of his job as a finish carpentry contractor. He's done the finish work for a number of affluent homes and high profile East Tennessee businesses such as Regas Restaurant. He builds mantles, stairs and other custom-designed projects.
With a college degree in fine arts, Wilbourn turned to contracting in order to support the family. Now that two of their four girls have left the nest, he's devoting more time to his art.
"I'm getting too old to do stairs," he explains with a laugh.
Wilbourn and his wife are used to working with each other. Debbie Wilbourn will often refer her clients who need specialized woodwork to him. Likewise, he frequently suggests her as an interior designer to his clients.
"John and I compliment each other," she says.
One thing they don't agree on is auctions. As an antiques dealer and interior designer, goes to them often; her husband would rather go to his workshop
"I love auctions," she says. "John thinks if you don't go to heaven, you go to an auction."
The items she selects for the store reflect her own tastes.
"It's hard for me to purchase anything I wouldn't want in my house," she says.
In addition to antiques, the store carries craftwork by Blount County residents Connie Millar, Debbie McGaha and Millie McClanahn.
It appears the Old Curiosity Shop has yet to satisfy the couple's curiosity for new endeavors. The Wilbourns say they plan to open a bed-and-breakfast inn when they finish renovating the farmhouse in Rockford.