Southern Narratives

Setting the Table

A former Hollywood prop maker brings passion to the table.

The state museum is quiet, and walking through the doorway to the “Carolina Makers” art exhibit feels much like entering a sound stage for a grand production. Suddenly, the star of the show comes into focus—an enormous table staged in the back center of the room, the spotlights perfectly highlighting the contrasts of its materials, shapes and lines. This is Jaryd Walley’s premier production.

Walley’s journey to the South Carolina State Museum began all the way back in Los Angeles, California, where he spent fifteen years as a prop and scenery maker in Hollywood. Working on films such as Titanic, Independence Day, and Doc Hollywood, Walley learned and honed his building skills over the years, discovering a passion for creating along the way. After surviving the 7.2 magnitude North Ridge Earthquake in 1994, he moved away from the Southern California life, and a train ride around the country eventually deposited him in Greenville, South Carolina. He quickly fell in love with the town—quaint and artistic, welcoming and generous, and on the cusp of a cultural transformation.

The town was accepting of its newest transplant, and Walley fell in with a creative crowd, inspired constantly but still searching for purpose and his next career move. One night, he found himself wandering the town after a wedding reception and came upon an old building being transformed into what would soon be one of Greenville’s nicest restaurants, Soby’s. An idea struck, and Walley walked in.

“I went up to Carl Sobocinski, the owner, and asked him if he needed a finishing carpenter,” says Walley. “I shared my background with him, told him what I could do, and he just said, ‘Can you start tomorrow?’ I didn’t have any tools, but Carl bought them for me, and we transformed that space.”

After the restaurant work was complete, Walley began working for a furniture maker and fell in love with creating heirloom-quality pieces. With decades of carpentry and building experience behind him and a strong drive to succeed, Walley started Mobili Farm Tables, choosing the Italian word for “furniture” as a nod to his heritage.

“I wanted to find something I could do that used those talents that I learned in Hollywood,” explains Walley. “My nationality is Italian, so food and family are very important. I felt a natural progression toward creating farm tables—it became my passion and my destiny.”

By selecting heart pine for most of his pieces, Walley drew from experiences visiting historical homes and plantations in Charleston to create a sense of authenticity and raw artistic quality. He also eschewed pre-cut or pre-carved elements for handmade, individualized parts made with care for each of his customers, all of whom he consulted at length to understand the exact needs and uses for each table.

Walley’s hard work paid off, and it wasn’t long before he became nationally renowned for his farm tables. Orders began flowing in from coast to coast, and Martha Stewart Living even stopped by for an interview. Walley continued to sharpen his skills, and is now beginning to offer classes to those who not only want a beautiful, authentic farm table in their home, but those who wish to learn how to make one themselves. Teaching both intermediate and beginner classes, Walley takes pride in watching prospective carpenters learn the craft.

“Woodworking is about confidence,” he shares. “If you have the confidence in what you’re doing, then you can enjoy the passion. That’s what I teach— confidence—so that people can enjoy creating just like I do.”

Over the last few years, Walley’s farm tables caught the eye of one of the curators at the South Carolina State Museum, and when it came time to choose craftsmen for the “Carolina Makers” exhibit, Walley was called upon to create a table.

With the lessons of Hollywood behind him, he began piecing together what may be viewed as the highlight piece of his life’s work — a tribute to South Carolina, detailed but natural in its progression. With purpose and passion, like an actor preparing for a role, Walley scoured history books and opened himself up to inspiration from the state around him. “Research and purpose are everything,” he explains. “You can’t get into character if you don’t know what it’s about.”

The final product, titled “La Forza Del Destino” (The Force of Destiny), is a 13.1 foot by 50 inch table weighing over 1600 pounds that evokes the feel of a farm table in its breadth, but is yet a far cry from traditional. Throughout the piece, symbolism lurks, the length of the table, 13.1 feet, is a nod to South Carolina as one of the thirteen original colonies. The glossy curly maple top, salvaged from a textile mill in Greenville, is a stark contrast to the rough, untouched beam, salvaged from Camp Sevier, one of three South Carolina training facilities for World War I. Its concrete base, reflective of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, contains pieces of charcoal to signify the burning of Charleston during the Civil War, and also boasts a cutout in the same diameter of a cannonball given to South Carolina by the French in a gesture of goodwill. Between the top and the base, a layer of ballistic grade polycarbonate rests, giving the illusion of a floating tabletop — a tribute to South Carolina as one of the leading contractors for military vehicles in the Iraq war.

“This is the first time I’ve explored symbolism, and I really wanted to nail it,” explains Walley. “It wasn’t planned out. Each bit just evolved that way, which is one of the reasons why I titled it ‘La Forza Del Destino.’”

Walley’s table­—and the rest of the pieces in the “Carolina Makers” exhibit —will be on display until February 2016, at which point Walley hopes to sell the table to someone who will appreciate the passion within it. The call from the museum altered his path a bit, and while he will continue to make farm tables and offer woodworking and farm table building classes, he hopes to explore unique, custom pieces like the one in the exhibit, and find his signature style within his works.

“When you are inspired and you create, that is the birth of something new,” Walley says. “This table represents the birth of my next step and the evolution of my signature.”

by Jana Riley