James “Justin” Roberts is a willow walker. You can often find him along the bank of a shallow pond, or deep in the woodlands of Kentucky. Machete in hand, he makes each cut with precision and takes home the bounty.
After working for a number of years cooking at restaurants, Justin, who was 30 years old, turned inward to discover sustainable living, art, and family. He soon decided he wanted to meet George Beard, a man who lived nearby and was known nationally as a fine willow craftsman.
In 2012, Justin began working with 85-year-old George. Once Justin had completed a willow chair, George realized he was a natural. Soon Justin and his small family were living in the Beard home and George and Justin were searching the land together for willow and working side by side in George’s woodshop. Justin says of the experience, “Age differences disappeared, and stories from an era past, along with a beautiful and lost folk art, were passing from one generation to the next.
Justin Roberts’ work can be found at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, Berea, KY.