Robert Runyan

Robert Runyan

2014 Award Recipient | LOG CABIN CONSTRUCTION, Winslow

Robert Runyan has been building log structures for more than 40 years, but he doesn't build run-of-the-mill log cabins. Unlike most log cabin makers, he doesn't use modern machinery to manufacture them. His “old world” methods of construction involve a team of mules, antique hand tools, apprentices and a lot of hard work.

His accomplishments in log cabin construction and stone masonry – as well as his dedication to teaching the craft to others – have earned him the 2014 Arkansas Living Treasure Award.

The Arkansas Living Treasure program annually recognizes an Arkansan who is outstanding in the creation of a traditional craft and has significantly contributed to the preservation of the art form. An independent panel of practicing craft artists and professionals in the fields of craft and folk art select the recipient based on the following criteria: quality of work, community outreach and overall contribution to the field of traditional crafts.

Runyan, 65, of Winslow, is a self-taught craftsman, born and raised in Newport. His interest in log cabin construction began when he attended a Boy Scout camp and learned skills in timber tower construction and using hand tools. "I can remember, as a kid, building miniature structures from Lincoln Logs and stones just to entertain myself," he said.

His passion continued to grow as he received hands-on experience working as a draftsman for his father's architectural design business. But he almost chose a different path. Runyan was a pre-med student at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. “By the time I got through with school, I was so burned out, I ran off to live in the woods. My goal was to be a doctor, but that’s not where my heart was. My heart was with Mother Nature,” he said.

After college, Runyan moved to Winslow and built his first log structure in 1972. His “off the grid” lifestyle reflects his work philosophy. He lives in a remote corner in Washington County surrounded by woods in a two-story, stone and log cabin he built using materials he gathered from his surroundings.

He has no running water, no publicly-supplied electricity, no computer, no television and no telephone. He heats his house and cooks his food using wood stoves and generates electricity through solar panels. “I chose this lifestyle mostly for environmental reasons. I’m just a nature boy at heart,” he explained. “This lifestyle is demanding, but fulfilling. It’s like a job.”

In his construction, Runyan employs techniques that were used 700-800 years ago. He begins by hand selecting and cutting standing dead oak timbers indigenous to the Ozarks. He doesn’t cut down living trees. He hauls and hoists the logs, as well as native stones, using his team of mules, Jasper, Jenny and Junebug.

He processes the logs and stone with hand tools (axes, draw knives, calipers, chisels, etc.) and uses traditional joinery with notching and wood pegs. Typically, he puts a structure together first off-site and then disassembles it, numbers the parts and reassembles the entire building at its final destination.

"Nothing makes me happier than building something and working with my hands,” he said. “From the selection of timber, loading, hauling, working the stone and logs to the tools and devices I employ, I have attempted in every instance to maintain the traditions of my craft, minimizing the use of heavy equipment and gas or electric powered implements."

He has completed dozens of notable projects in Arkansas, including the construction of the Bottle Rocket Gallery in Fayetteville, the reconstruction of the Yellow Rock Overlook at Devil's Den Park in Winslow and the Underwood-Lindsey Pavilion at Mount Sequoyah Woods in Fayetteville, as well as the restoration of the 1820s log granary at the Rice-Upshaw House in Dalton.

In each of his projects, he mentors to apprentices and colleagues on the traditional techniques of stone and log construction. For two years, he worked with apprentices on the rebuilding and repairing of several structures at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. The construction was done in the public view and included lectures and discussion.

When he isn't working, Runyan enjoys reading, making home improvements, drawing, leatherwork and spending time with his wife, Dorothy.


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