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Dale Calhoun

Dale Calhoun

(1935-2007) lived in Tiptonville in Lake County
Cypress and iron seat for watercraft, 19.5 x 15 x 20.5 inches, 1999.82.2

This is a short legged chair designed to be used in a “Reelfoot Lake Stumpjumper” boat. The chair consists of two frame pieces with a back and seat nailed to them. Each frame is made of three parts, the back support, the side rail, and the front leg.  Calhoun was a fourth generation boat builder and continued the traditions passed to him by his father and grandfather. Numerous book, magazine, and newspaper articles have chronicled the boat type and the Calhoun family.

For the last fifty years of his life, Calhoun was the principle maker of the unique Tennessee watercraft associated with Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of the state. The “lakeboat” or “stumpjumper” evolved in the 1800’s to navigate the flooded cypress swamp created by earthquakes early in the century. Dale’s great-grandfather Joseph was a blacksmith who’d become involved in boat-building by the early 1900’s. By Dale’s lifetime the Calhoun shop dominated this local tradition, and the pirogue-like boat had attained its modern features, with an unusual forward-facing oar system, inboard motor, and lever-operated rudder. Dale constantly built boats in his spare time during a long career with the Tennessee Department of Corrections. He was featured in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and for over twenty years he served as a cultural ambassador for Reelfoot by doing demonstrations of his craft at events throughout Tennessee. In 1998 Calhoun received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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