By the time we’re trundling up highway 65, through the foothills of the Ozarks towards Leslie, AR, I feel like Jordan Archote and I are old friends. She’s Brad Archote’s daughter and, along with her sister Cetan and friend Adrienne Freeman, has now taken over Red Road Woodworks after her father passed away in 2014. Jordan and I have only spoken by phone but her passion for the business is so overwhelming I just have to meet her.
“How about we meet in Leslie and I’ll lead you to the studio,” she asks. It’s not an uncommon thing to request – over the years we’ve been down many an unmarked dirt road. Most of our artisans live off the beaten path. It’s something of a badge of honor. Jordan and Adrienne meet us in Leslie, a charming town 30 miles from the thriving artisan community of Mountain View that’s sprinkled with antique stores and charming cafes. “Your car won’t look that clean after today,” Jordan laughs. I smile, “no problem, lead the way.”
The name Red Road Woodworks is pretty damn accurate. After leaving Leslie, we rumble for 25 minutes down a winding red clay road, up through the Boston Mountains, then down into a valley, past a bubbling creek, then up some more. By the time we arrive at a collection of houses and woodshops deep in the woods, I’m convinced that Red Road Woodworks is the most remote maker we have on offer. Another badge of honor I think to myself.
Brad Archote left New Orleans at 23 seeking a new way of living. “He wanted to get back to nature,” Jordan explains. “He wanted to live like the locals.” So he found a plot of land that still to this day employs a gravity fed system to pump spring water to the kitchen. Over time, he realized that farming alone wouldn’t allow him to survive. He needed a trade. Luckily one of the locals that he met taught him woodworking. He took that and put it into the basket of what he did.
His daughters tell me that Brad was a storyteller and passionate cook. “To see people using the spoons in their kitchen, people we know, was a huge joy for him,” Cetan says with a smile. “People would say ‘I use this all the time and I think of you’. To my dad it was a way of building community and shared memory. It was so important to him. He liked to cook and loved to tell stories. And the two just go hand in hand.” Cooking is a way of creating community – food is a story and often the glue that generates a storytelling environment.
The mosquitos are buzzing around my head as we speak. I swat a few away from my legs as well. We’re standing on the edge of an overgrown garlic field, tall and in need of some TLC since Brad passed away. Cetan’s daughter has just helped her mom dig some garlic from the garden. “My dad only had girls,” Jordan says. “We can farm, mechanic a little bit and we definitely all cook,” she says with a look of pride. You can almost sense Brad’s presence. The girls grew up digging garlic, sanding wood and cooking with dad’s spoons. It sounds like a beautiful childhood. “He didn’t work any less so that he could spend time with us, we were just right there next to him joining in on every activity.”
When Brad got sick, his youngest daughter Cetan and her daughter moved back from the Chicago area to help take care of him. To make a little money, Brad taught Cetan how to make spoons. “There was a period of time where he could still teach me how to make spoons,” she explains. “He could show me how to do things, but I didn’t really want him around the tools. He was stubborn though and I’d often find him out back in the shop gouging spoons when I’d return from town.”
Brad would set up his chair outside the woodworking shop and watch Cetan’s daughter while Cetan worked on the spoons. “Growing up around wood, it’s just something I love. I find it calming. So dealing with his illness, I found that going to the shop was one way that I could center myself.”
These days she’s still centering herself. Cetan makes the majority of the business’ product and travels to craft shows, while Jordan and Adrienne focus on growing the business. It’s a multi-generational effort, with friends and family all joining hands to continue Brad’s business. As we drive back out of town, we stop into a lovely antique store on Leslie’s main strip. The owner remembers Brad. “He made the best spoons. I still have a bunch of them in my kitchen and use them all the time,” she says, grinning. “What a great guy. What a great family.”
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All photos © Bernard Baskin & Yvonne Quek of Maayde.com