Dragons, Fiddles, Guns, And Liquor: Uncovering Southern Surrealist Furniture

Sep 3, 2019

Furniture maker Tilden Stone crafted a steam boat 200 miles from the sea. Despite the portholes, pointed bow and stacks, he meant for this structure to be his home, and he lived in it until his death in 1952. At his nephew’s house — also in Lincolnton, North Carolina — he constructed a giant shoe in the front yard.

Solitary and consumed by his work, Stone was an eccentric man who baffled his neighbors. His extended family simply thought him peculiar. In North Carolina, Stone knew no other artists. But in his travels working aboard a steamship, he likely met woodworkers across the Pacific. Stone’s imaginative woodworking includes a cuckoo clock portmanteau of Chinese dragons meshed with Southern fauna, instrumentation and firearms. But practicality was not lost in Stone’s flair for the unusual. Many pieces subverted Prohibition enforcement through secret liquor compartments.

The Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University hosts “Southern Surreal,” the first-ever exhibition of the Tilden J. Stone’s work which is on view through Sept. 8, 2019. Host Frank Stasio talks with museum director Roger Manley about first discovering Stone and tracking down over 250 pieces of his furniture.

Tilden Stone's nostalgia for his multiple laps around the world manifested in this steamship house in Lincolnton, NC
Credit Gregg Museum of Art and Design