LOUISE WYATT COLLECTION
June 19, 1912 – Mar 19, 1999
"Cumberland Lore, Clarksville, Tenn, Oct 1989," pg. 4:
Emmett A. Roper -- Today's Maker of Tomorrow's Heirlooms
The desire to create heirloom furniture is not limited to craftsmen of the past. Emmett Allen Roper, Jr., is typical of those who continue to produce tomorrow's heirlooms today. A modern cabinetmaker, he has spent a lifetime filling his own home, the homes of his children, and those of many fortunate customers with beautiful handcrafted pieces in traditional early American designs. Roper's own heritage in woodworking stems from four generations of contractors and cabinetmakers on each side of his parentage. As a child, he accompanied his father on construction work and says he learned a great deal from observation and trial and error. A native of the Peedee community in South Christian County, KY, he came to Clarksville and Montgomery County in 1936. By then, he was making his own livelihood making kitchen cabinets, doing trim work for other contractors. Quite often he was left to his own selection of woods and designs which he enjoyed. Building a collection of working tools is essential to the cabinet maker or anyone who loves to work with wood. Roper soon accumulated a reliable supply of hand tools; he now invested in power tools and in 1944, just after WWII, he decided to go into the contracting business for himself. There was no shortage of jobs. His skills were often sought for such specialized projects as replacing windows and woodwork in older homes - non standard items no longer on the market. However, as someone who has always admired early American furniture, Roper made a more important decision in 1962 when he decided to go into full time cabinet making. After crafting some pieces for himself, he found his greatest satisfaction in this type of creative work. He built a shop behind his home, but worked on orders only, as he had no space for large displays. Emmett Roper estimates that for the next 20 years he turned out over 1,000 pieces of fine handcrafted furniture - dining room sets, bedroom suites, breakfronts, china cabinets, clock cabinets, chairs, secretaries, desks, small tables, blanket chests, hall trees. One spool chest design became so popular, he says, "I must have made a hundred of those." An artistic daughter kept him busy making picture frames. Not the least of his work was in repair and refinishing of existing heirloom pieces brought in by his customers. He never copied one of these without first getting the owner's permission. Roper has worked in all the native hardwoods, a little mahogany, some pine, a light walnut from England, and even paulonia, a wood favored in Japan. Although cherry was the favorite in early America, his preference is by far walnut. "Walnut" he says, "has character." By that he means that it has a beautiful grain, finishes well, acquires a patina, and ages beautifully if it is not placed in direct sunlight. He used only kiln dried lumber and prefers a lacquer for finishing. It took a heart attack in 1982 to force him to retire. In 1979 his daughter had already given him a "Golden Hammer" award, mounted on a walnut plaque, which he proudly displays in his den. He also has a collection of antique tools. The Ropers have three children, all of whose homes are filled with fine furniture of his design. Mrs. Roper, a former librarian and teacher, also had a skill of her own in repairing antique quilts. Like Tennessee artisans of old, few of Roper's pieces, except for those for his own family, have been signed, dated or otherwise identified as to the maker. This is too bad, for it seems likely that in some of the books on fine Tennessee furniture, some of Emmett Roper's pieces will appear.
Submitted by Kyle, Melanie and David Atkins on behalf of Louise Wyatt- Thank you!