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TG Designs: Handmade Beauty and Function From Appalachia

TG Designs has been crafting handmade pieces of functional art for almost a decade. Started by Tina and Gene King in 2009, the company creates practical and decorative items from beautiful Appalachian hardwoods. Their creations reflect the Kentucky heritage and the traditions of woodworking that have been in their families for generations. It took decades and the inspiration of family and others to complete a story that starts and ends in a woodshop.

Many of their original products are designed to be used in the daily lives of their customers. From practical items like their gooseneck back scratcher to traditional Appalachia games, their creations are beautiful and functional. The gallery of work that TG Designs offer reflects the life stages, careers, and daily lives of everyday folks. Hand carved walking sticks, kitchen tools, religious and holiday ornaments, and keepsakes are a sampling of what the company offers.

“Wood is in Our Blood”

Gene King grew up in Pikesville, Kentucky in a family with deep ties to the history and natural surroundings of the Appalachian Mountains. His great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee medicine woman. The family can even trace their roots back to the infamous Hatfields and McCoys of Kentucky legend. From generations of woodworkers, Gene grew up learning how to turn a piece of wood into something useful and beautiful. As a child, Gene was creative and remembers drawing designs, making things, and learning the skills of his Appalachian ancestors. His mother was an accomplished quilter who taught local women her craft. She taught Gene how to sew, quilt, and cook while his father and grandfather taught him the art of woodworking. His mother fostered Gene’s love of music, and he became an excellent saxophonist, even playing for then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Becoming an artisan in music, art, or woodworking was almost inevitable.

tg designs wooden vase

Like many families in Appalachia, the King family was devoutly religious. As Gene became a young adult, his father and grandfather wanted him to become a minister, so he went to Bible College and began to preach. But he quickly found that the life of a preacher was not his calling. One day while his parents were away, Gene made a decision that would change everything. Not able to work up the courage to tell his mother and father how he felt, he left a note on the table. He had joined the Navy and he ventured out to live his own life. Gene still worked with wood off and on, but it would be decades before he discovered that woodworking was his calling. After 30 years in the Navy, Gene retired and returned to Kentucky in 2003. He began woodworking as a hobby and found that he had a knack for design as well as craftsmanship. One day, his aunt asked him to make a birdhouse that looked like her grandpa’s house. The project was a hit, and family, friends, and neighbors began requesting their own custom works. And Gene’s life as an artisan began.

Behind Every Great Artisan…

Gene credits the women in his life and the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) for jumpstarting his life as a woodworker. Just as he had surprised his mother with his enlistment in the Navy 30 years earlier, she had a surprise of her own for Gene. Shortly before his retirement, his mother submitted some of Gene’s woodworking to the KAC, and his work was accepted. He received a letter of acceptance as a juried artisan while still in the Navy. It would be years, however, before Gene would begin building a relationship with the KAC and launch TG Designs. It would take another woman in his life to inspire him to fulfill his life as an artisan.

Gene met and married his wife, Tina, in 2009 when he moved to Stanton, Kentucky. Tina came from a similar background as Gene, right down to fond memories of spending time in her father’s woodshop. Their love of woodworking and shared religious beliefs created an instant match for the couple. Like Gene, Tina also had a musical background. She was a professional gospel singer and songwriter who appeared on network television and had two top 20 songs. She encouraged his woodworking from the start, and the couple began to collaborate on designs and planning their business startup. Tina immediately saw the potential for Gene’s work and the advantages of working with the KAC. Their relationship with the KAC grew quickly, they began attending craft shows, and TG Designs was born.

TG Designs Today

Today, Tina and Gene work together and with the KAC to continue TG Design’s growth. Gene found that he loves designing and coming up with new ideas as much as he enjoys working with wood. Tina is hands-on and can often be found sanding away, finishing pieces before they are finally revealed. More often than not, though, Tina spends much of her time helping run the daily business and promoting TG Designs. Their relationship with the KAC provides plenty of opportunities to gain exposure for their work. They find the network maintained by the KAC invaluable and have learned much about the business of being an artisan. Gene King could have been a musician, a preacher, or just about anything else thanks to his storied life. But the woodshop and the design table are where Gene truly belongs and where his creativity shines. It took many years and the support and inspiration of family, friends, and organizations like the KAC to get there. But it’s obvious to see that he has found his calling after all.

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