Lewis C. Buckner was born enslaved in Strawberry Plains in East Tennessee in March of 1856. His mother was an enslaved Black woman and his father is believed to be a white man. Lewis and his mother were enslaved until he was nine years old, when the aftermath of the Civil War freed them in 1865. Once freed, Lewis found an apprenticeship in Sevier County, Tennessee with a white Unionist from Michigan named Christian Stump, a furniture and cabinet maker. His time with Stump laid the foundations for his successful career. While he was an apprentice, Lewis met his wife Jane Bryant and the couple was married in 1875.
By the 1880’s, Lewis opened his own furniture and cabinet shop in Sevier County, Tennessee. He built traditional furniture pieces but quickly became known for his more creative and elaborate works. Pattern books were common at the time for designers, and Lewis found inspiration in the popular Aesthetic and Eastlake design movements of the
late 19th century. Lewis crafted cabinets, washstands, bureaus, desks, cupboards, and bedroom suites. He typically lived with the families while he constructed their furniture, according to descendants of his patrons. Much of his furniture still exists today as precious family heirlooms. A bedroom set designed by Lewis is permanently displayed at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. The museum has free admission and free parking.
In addition to building furniture and cabinets, Lewis was an architect responsible for building over fifteen homes around Sevier County, many of which still stand today. He completed interior architectural details for families in his Smoky Mountain community as well. Similarly to his furniture designs, the houses he built were extremely ornate. He not only used pattern books for furniture inspiration, but also for architectural inspiration. The elegant motifs, arrangements, and methods of craftsmanship served as a maker’s mark for Lewis and were intricate for the region during the late Victorian era. His own home, which he built in Sevierville, Tennessee in 1894 still stands. Several of the homes he designed can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Though Lewis Buckner died in May of 1924, he is eternalized as one of the most skilled Black artisans in Tennessee and the Appalachian region. He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Union Hill Cemetery in Sevier County.
About Tennessee State Museum
The Tennessee State Museum, on the corner of Rosa L Parks Blvd. and Jefferson Street at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville, is home to 13,000 years of Tennessee art and history. Through six permanent exhibitions titled Natural History, First Peoples, Forging a Nation, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Change and Challenge and Tennessee Transforms, the Museum takes visitors on a journey – through artifacts, films, interactive displays, events and educational and digital programing – from the state’s geological beginnings to the present day. Additional temporary exhibitions, including Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote, explore significant periods and individuals in history, along with art and cultural movements. The Museum is free and open to the public Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.. and Sundays from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. For more information on exhibitions and events, please visit tnmuseum.org.
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