A Chance Encounter with a German Craftsman in a Tiny Georgia Town
Main streets in small southern towns are gems. On the surface, they may appear to be run down and bedraggled, but on the inside, they can be something precious. Such is Kingsland, Georgia. Driving through, we saw a storefront that looked more like an opening into a secret garden. There was no real name on this storefront, just a conglomeration of small signs and knickknacks with ornate furniture and antiques peering out at Main Street. The entry was cobbled together with old pane windows and wooden doors and it just beckoned to us. A hand painted sign on barn board gave a tiny warning about shoplifting. to all who enter We parked the truck and headed in to see what we could see.
Inside, it looked like we might have stepped into another world. There was something hanging, stacked and standing everywhere. Dust had settled in layers from the workshop that had no separation from the store itself, giving the space an eerie feeling of stepping back into untouched time. From an adjacent room, a voice with a thick German accent boomed at us, “Hello! Would you like to come in my shop?” We grinned at each other, knowing that a Chance Encounter in this place is a sure thing!
Eberhard Sopp is 72 and lived in Kingsland, Georgia since he was 27. He emigrated from Germany with the skills of a fine craftsman working in Fine Antique and wooden furniture restoration. Stuffed into this old building is a couple of million dollars of old traditional pieces that he has lovingly restored along with some of his own more whimsical creations. He shared that he had done work for a number of celebrities (Ted Turner being a notable one) and that he now keeps this shop as a labor of love and at the request of this little home town. They need a storefront to entice people into stopping instead of driving right through. He did say that non one had bought anything in months, there is not a tourist season here and most of the townspeople have no money for anything but necessities. He keeps busy doing restorations for some of the more affluent locals.
Eberhard loves to talk and we were there for quite a little while as he showed us his work. “Have you ever seen a catfish?”, he asked. He picked up a piece of wood painted and hung on a string. If you hold it sideways, it is a fish. Vertically, it becomes a cat. He was very pleased that we found this so clever. He also took great pride in showing us some small tables that he made from Palm Fronds. In the South, after any windstorm, artists pick these up and paint on them like canvases. There is a healthy folk art market for this sort of “found art” and Eberhard does this too. He amuses himself with the whimsy of this sort of creative expression in contrast to the very precise traditional work and finishes of the fine antique restoration he does.
Eberhard told us that he does not go in much for the modern conveniences. He has no cell phone, but still has a rotary phone sitting on his desk. He pointed up on the wall and said, “look, Here is my Facebook Page!” If you look carefully in the photo below, you can see a line of painted faces on a board running across the ceiling of the shop.
He talked a bit about his family. He has kids who don’t want his “stuff”, so his instructions to them are to place all of the big wooden pieces out on the curb when he passes away and have a funeral pyre in front of the shop. That way he can take it with him. HE also talked about his ex-wife who he says passed away three years ago. He indicated that she did not share his enthusiasm for the business, but he does keep a memento to remind him of her.
HE pointed to another of his Palm Frond tables as an example of his wife’s lack of value for his work. He explained with a good-natured chuckle that he was going for a depiction of a mermaid, but she named this piece, Jesus on the Swingset.
This Chance Encounter brightened our day and reminded us that we must never form preconceived notions of who people are based on where they live. After all, who knew that Gepetto lived in Georgia!
Thanks Eberhard, Be Well! We really enjoyed our Chance Encounter with you.