The art of snake cane carving is practiced throughout the world, and has a rich history in southern Appalachia. The process begins when a vine wraps itself around a tree branch and fuses to it, ultimately causing the branch to die and fall. The result is a wooden stick with a snake-like coil wrapped around it. In the hands of skilled carver, this coil is transformed into an arrestingly lifelike serpent. Retired tobacco farmer and mail carrier Norman Amos of Pittsylvania County stands as the greatest living master of this cherished craft. Known for his legendary attention to detail, Norman creates snake canes that often mirror their living counterparts down to the number of scales. Norman recently achieved his lifelong goal of carving one cane for every species of snake indigenous to Virginia. Through the Apprenticeship Program, Norman has taught the art of snake cane carving to his apprentice, renowned gunsmith and woodworker John Buck.
Back when I grew up, didn’t hardly anybody have electricity, radio, or television for entertainment. When people got together, the men would go out by the woodpile and sit around chewing tobacco and whittling. So, really it was just something that you did. I’ve just always carried a pocketknife with me, ever since I was a boy.