TODD-Deep in a mountain hollow somewhere close to the Ashe and Watauga County line, a local startup company is hoping its ideas will change the archery landscape.
Huntworthy Productions, founded earlier this year in a small workshop off Bald Fork Road, is deep into a crowdfunding push the company hopes will help it expand its fledgling bow building operation.
The company is the brainchild of James Parker, a master bowyer with more than 35 years of bow crafting experience, and Dale and Christopher Toliver, a father-son duo whose mountain ties stretch back generations. Toryn Little, Parker’s apprentice, rounds out the company’s founding team.
Together, they hope to capitalize on an American market that might be more eager than ever to learn ancient skills like flint knapping and traditional archery.
“There is nothing like the feeling of releasing an arrow from a bow you’ve built yourself,” Parker said. “But most people have no idea what that’s like. We’d like to change that.”
A little place called Toliver
Huntworthy Productions manufacturing facility, a concrete block building filled with all the wooden forms, vices and other odds and ends needed to turn a simple length of wood into a handmade bow, lies at the end of a winding gravel path that splits off from Three Top Road in Todd.
Traveling the road leading to the shop, which runs alongside a gorgeous creek for much of its length, feels a little bit like entering a national forest like the Pisgah. Houses lie here and there along the route, and the Tolivers can tell you who lives in nearly all of them.
Christopher Toliver said his family has called the area home for five generations. If you look the community up on Google Earth, it’s simply called Toliver.
It’s here that Dale, who runs a commercial logging operation and Christopher, a Lowes corporate employee, met Parker through a local home Bible study group.
Parker is a kind of primitive skills Renaissance man. He can turn glass-like volcanic rock into razor sharp cutting tools and start fire with a hand drill but he’s also had a lifelong fascination with the art and craft of archery.
He’s made a name for himself over the past three decades building everything from English-style longbows to composite horn bows fashioned from wood, horn, sinew and animal glues.
“We were all sitting around and fellowshipping and the light bulb just clicked,” Christopher Toliver said. “My experience in the corporate world combined with Dale’s knowledge and the ability to access the raw materials with James’ experience and skills as a bowyer, it just made sense.”
The trio formed Huntworthy Productions in March, and soon brought Little, a leather-working wiz who majored in mathematics at UNC-Charlotte, on board.
Old school meets new
The idea behind Huntworthy Productions? Make traditional archery accessible to modern America by selling finished bows and unfinished bow blanks that would-be bowyers can finish themselves.
It’s a concept Parker said other companies have tried – though mainly with the help of modern manufacturing methods – and one Parker said Huntworthy hopes to perfect.
“We’re not the first to think of this by any means,” Parker said. “But we’re going to focus on quality. Everything that comes out of here will be handmade and we believe that will give us an edge over companies that are turning things out with the help of machines.”
Dale Toliver said the profile of archery might be at an all-time high. He attributes that in part to blockbuster films like The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings which feature archers as main characters.
A wave of popular T.V. shows over the past decade on networks like the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel have also helped popularize primitive skills like animal trapping and traditional archery.
“There’s always been this core of people interested in this,” Dale Toliver said. “But now probably more so than ever.”
Parker has built and sold traditional bows through a variety of outlets in recent years, but said he believes Huntworthy Productions to be the proper vehicle to scale that work for a larger market.
Huntworthy has been able to finance its operation so far without taking on any debt, Christopher Toliver said, but the company has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the equipment it needs to prepare the operation to sell bows to the public next spring.
The campaign’s goal is to raise $15,000 through Kickstarter, an online crowd funding platform, by Dec. 11, to help the company purchase a heavy duty dust collection system and a professional spray booth that should help Parker and the team increase the number of bows it can build. Right now, the campaign has raised about a fifth of its goal.
Negotiating the rules and quirks of Kickstarter has at times been frustrating, Christopher Toliver said, but Huntworthy has still managed to adapt its campaign for the wildly popular capital-raising platform.
“It would make sense for us to offer contributors finished bows, but Kickstarter won’t allow you to do that since they’re also technically weapons,” Christopher Toliver said. “So you have to back up and come at it from a different way. We have been able to offer bow blanks and training that would help contributors turn those blanks into finished bows, which we think might be an even better idea than just a finished bow.”
And that’s fine by Parker, he said. Building something with his own two hands that he can use to bring meat to the table is his idea of a fun time.
“If we can help other people to experience what that feels like – we’ll be doing alright,” Parker said.
To check out Huntworthy Productions Kickstarter campaign, visit Kickstarter.com and search for “Building Bows in the Blue Ridge Mountains” or visit huntworthyproductions.com.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.