Life in our Foothills November 2023 – Ninety-year-old woodcarver always looking ahead to new adventures – B.J. Precourt
Published 1:48 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023
B.J. Precourt didn’t come to Polk County to become an artist or a craftsman. That wasn’t even a thought when B.J. and his wife, Julie, made the move here nearly 40 years ago. They both retired early. B.J. was a glazier and ran his own successful shop in Hackensack, New Jersey and Julie was a teacher. They visited the area, fell in love with what they saw, and bought a historic home on Whiteside Road in the Mill Spring area. It was here that B.J. started his work as a woodcarver. At about the same time, Julie took up quilting and was eventually winning awards for her work as a master quilter.
Julie left a big hole in B.J.’s heart when she died nearly seven years ago. He still talks of the love they shared for 70 years including 61 years of marriage. They knew each other since seventh grade. It’s obvious that B.J. is still processing this loss, but he’s not one to look backward. B.J., even at age ninety, is always looking ahead to his next big adventure.
He has had quite a life of adventures including running away from home when he was 14 years old. A big part of the reason for this was that love for Julie. B.J.’s mother had died, his father had remarried, and his dad and stepmom were moving to Yonkers, New York. B.J. didn’t get along with his father and had no desire to make that move to a new city and a new school. B.J. took off on his own and never looked back. He learned that to make it in this world, one needs to learn to be resourceful and to not be afraid of hard work.
As a young teen, he was working multiple jobs just to get by. Eventually, it was discovered that he wasn’t in school, and even in the era of no electronic records, it became obvious that he needed to be enrolled. An uncle took him in and gave him a place to stay. B.J. settled in enough to graduate high school in three years.
These early experiences helped form the work ethic behind B.J.’s success. He’s only recently started to let others take care of the more physical things that need doing around his place such as mowing, rock work, and the house cleaning. That frees up more time for woodcarving and more time to think about what he might want to do next. B.J. is always thinking ahead to what’s around the next bend.
B.J. didn’t plan on being a woodcarver. Back in New Jersey, he did carve three big pieces for his family as Christmas gifts. He carved a full-size “Santa” for Julie and that piece still has a special spot in the house. He carved a giant knife for his son who collected knives, and for his daughter, he carved a replica of American Revolutionary heroine Sybil Ludington. And then he was done with carving.
It was decades later that B.J. decided it was time to give woodcarving a serious try. Most of the work he wanted to do on his house was done, and woodcarving seemed like a good “country” hobby to settle into. He had some basic carving tools gifted to him by a friend, Sebastian (Sebby) Alongi. He gives Sebby the credit for being his mentor, but B.J. is truly self-taught. He says Sebby was a fine artisan while B.J. considers himself a “folk art” woodcarver. He seems to think this means his work can be a bit more whimsical and even “rough” compared to fine art – but there’s nothing amateurish about any of B.J.’s work.
He started by carving walking sticks with whimsical heads. B.J. says he’s never had to buy any wood. He picks up pieces while he traipses through the woods or revels in his discovery of discarded bits of wood here and there. He can size up a piece of wood in an instant and instinctively knows what it is going to become. It’s almost magical.
In fact, when you walk into his showroom…B.J. says, “You’ll be in for a WOW moment.” You can see the excitement in his eyes as he talks about what you’re about to experience. The showroom, just a few steps from his workshop, is packed from wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with his carvings. There are pieces of all sizes. His showroom and his art bring smiles to his visitors. He’s proud of his work and while he feels that he’s an unknown in a world of professional craftsmen, his work is finding the recognition he deserves. In addition to this issue of Life in Our Foothills, B.J. has graced the covers and pages of other regional magazines.
B.J. is ready for whatever might be ahead. At age ninety, he sometimes worries that he won’t be around long enough to try his next big project. He muses that he’s amazed he’s made it this far. He’s had multiple surgeries over his years. Nothing slows him down. His daughter suggested that perhaps he try his hand at writing. For sure, his life’s story would make for an amazing read.
One thing B.J. doesn’t do is sit around. He’s always learning. He’s always doing. He’s proud of that.
“It’s important to keep your mind working, to keep thinking, to keep doing,” he says.
His only regret, he ponders, is that perhaps he didn’t thank all the people in his long life that helped him along the way. I’m sure those people took their pleasure in seeing B.J. pull himself out of a tough situation and make the most of his life.
B.J. is a remarkable man. Here’s to whatever adventures come next.
B.J. Precourt’s showroom is open seven days a week during daylight hours. He loves visitors and is happy to have drop ins. B.J. is old school for sure. He does not have a website, doesn’t do social media, or have an email address.
Just honk your horn or give him a call at 828/ 894-3910. He loves to chat, share his stories, and let you have your wow moment seeing his creations. His shop and showroom are located at 2125 Whiteside Road in Mill Spring, NC. It’s just around the bend from Parker-Binns Vineyard.
B.J. on YouTube
You can watch a video interview the author did with B. J. a few months ago at: