Often we here at Americana Rhythm wax poetic about the romantic mystery of the Appalachian Mountain region; the music; and the people who reside there. Nevertheless, just like other places in the world have their sad parts, our beloved mountain region does as well. Anyone who pays attention to the news is aware of the pockets of poverty that exist as well as the hold that drink and drugs exhibit. Not long ago, at the IBMA gathering in Raleigh, a luthier had a conversation with our publisher about his mission to address these sad parts. That luthier’s name is Doug Naselroad, and he is director of the Appalachian School of Luthiery in Hindman, KY.
The town of Hindman is tucked away deep in the heart of the hard-hit Kentucky coalfields. The folks in charge of survival in Hindman area have created The Appalachian Artisan Center (AAC) and have dedicated it to the promotion of the work of artists and craftsmen throughout the mountains of Kentucky. They do this by providing marketing and professional development assistance to those folks. The AAC works to build and strengthen an arts-based economic sector in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky. Thus, a main purpose of AAC is to develop the economy of eastern Kentucky through its arts, culture, and heritage. AAC is dedicated to supporting artists by helping them create and grow successful businesses. The AAC provides assistance to artists in many ways such as business plan development, training and continuing education opportunities, studio space, and a venue to sell and exhibit their work.
A big part of the AAC is the part played by that missionary, Doug Naselroad, who chatted with AR’s publisher last fall. He is Master Luthier and Lead Instructor, at the AAC’s Appalachian School of Luthiery. At the school, Naselroad teaches stringed instrument construction to students and apprentices of all ages. Doug Naselroad has been making stringed instruments since 1969 and has sold his signature line of stringed instruments and door harps to customers from around the world.
Doug began his ACC association in 2013 when the center leaders selected him to be their Master Artist in woodworking. Soon after, Naselroad founded the Appalachian School of Luthiery to teach students the art of making fine musical instruments under the guidance of a master luthier. Folks from around the world come to Hindman to learn the craft of instrument-building at the Appalachian School of Luthiery.
Here is where the true recovery part of this story begins. Naselroad recently co-founded, Troublesome Creek, a stringed instrument manufacturing company. Troublesome Creek is a nonprofit, commercially sustainable company that manufactures high-end custom guitars, mandolins and mountain dulcimers while helping local people earn a livelihood using Luthiery skills.
The Appalachian School of Luthiery serves as the workforce development arm for Troublesome Creek by training skilled crafts-people to be capable of producing quality stringed instruments. Troublesome Creek provides meaningful jobs where these trained woodworkers create quality stringed instruments using traditional Appalachian hardwoods such as black locust and red spruce. The quality instruments produced by Troublesome Creek luthiers are warmly received and successfully marketed and sold.
In February 2019, a federal agency, the Appalachian Regional Commission, announced a $12 million investment for addiction recovery and workforce development in Kentucky’s Appalachian counties. This investment included more than $867,000 for Troublesome Creek stringed instruments company. Plus, The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment program is providing financial assistance for training and school tuition at the Luthiery school. Troublesome Creek is also partnering with both the Hickory Hills Recovery Center and the Knott County Drug Court to engage with people who are recovering from addiction and are interested in Luthiery.
It is important to note that this effort is taking place in an area of Appalachia that contains some of the poorest counties in the United States. Doug Naselroad’s goal is to provide high-paying and highly skilled jobs to his neighbors who need them the most.
Ron Pen, University of Kentucky, John Jacob Niles Center for American Music, is quoted as saying, “Master luthier Doug Naselroad has created a flourishing craft studio that has created innovative guitars and ukuleles as well as faithful reproductions of historical dulcimers. But this is far more than a studio. It is also a wonderful school that nurtures apprentices in life skills as well as the technical skills necessary to create beautiful instruments that will sing beautifully for generations.”
In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Appalachian School of Luthiery with an ArtWorks Grant. Also in 2016, the school’s Hindman Dulcimer Project also won the Governor’s Award in the Arts for folk heritage. Also that year, Doug won the Homer Ledford award for excellence in Luthiery given annually by Western Kentucky University.
Bootstrapping one’s self is always a laudable effort; however, setting out to bootstrap members of one’s community who need a second chance at life by using skills-training and then creating jobs that use those skills is a Herculean effort. This latter effort is Mr. Naselroad’s legacy.
Should a road trip through Appalachia be in your summer plans, consider including a side-trip to Hindman, Kentucky and pay a visit to the Appalachian Artisan Center. If you have time, you might even indulge yourself a short training session at the Appalachian School of Luthiery.
To learn more about the recovery effort in Hindman, refer to the WEB sites: https://www.appalachianluthiery.org/ and https://artisancenter.net/.
By Edward Tutwiler