Ted Watts: A Life of Wood and Water

By Leslie Moore

Ted Watts: A Life of Wood and Water

Most of us have an heirloom piece in our home that was handed down from a family member – a table or chest that carries our family stories in the wood grains polished by generations of hands. Tucked off Hwy. 17 Bypass in Murrells Inlet, in an old chicken barn, Ted Watts creates furniture destined to become the heirlooms of future generations, the “antiques of tomorrow.” This gifted artist uses the entire tree; even sculpting beautiful art from the smallest branches. Walking though Ebb and Flow Art Co-op, where he is a member, Ted stopped at each piece displayed and told me where the tree grew, how long the wood was cured (years) and where each distinctive and beautiful flaw was placed. When not creating art, Ted finds peace on his surfboard and is involved with the local surfing community, helping and competing in surfing contests and charity events.

Ted’s roots reach back to 19th century Myrtle Beach, and his grandfather, who along with a group of local businessmen, incorporated the town in 1938. Ted’s father and maternal grandfather were both contractors, paving the way for his love of wood. Today, his parents still live in Murrells Inlet, and Ted’s mother, Sarah Watts, 81, plays the organ each Sunday at First Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach, just as she has done for the past 62 years. “My mother is an angel,” Ted began. “She never worked outside the home, but she has taught Sunday school to generations of children. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.”

After graduating from high school, young Ted attended Ringling School of Art in Florida, but transferred to Virginia Art Institute. “I didn’t finish college. I left and moved to Murrells Inlet and have been here ever since.” He continued with a laugh, “I think I might have finished if I had stayed in Florida. It was so cold in Virginia I just couldn’t stand it!”

Ted met his future wife while she was on a date with a friend. “The day after we met, she came to the beach where I was surfing, and I asked her out to a movie – I don’t think we ever made it to the movies though!” That was 39 years ago, and Ted and Donna Watts will celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary this February. I asked Ted his secret to a long and happy marriage. “I give Donna all the credit. She has stuck by me through some pretty rough times – Donna straightened me out. I’m a lucky man.” The couple has one son, Matthew, and three grandchildren they adore – Kayli, 13; Jacob, 7; and Miley Anne, 5. Matthew and his wife, Becky, live in the area and the family enjoys spending time together.

Donna’s deep love shines through her words when she talks about her husband, and she is very proud of his talents. “Ted is doing what he loves to do…create,” she began. “Through his work he has been given the opportunity to carve and build some beautiful things. Ted still gets excited when he comes up with new and different creations. He knows wood like the back of his hand (hands which have sustained many a cut from the chisel or saw blade) and he sees beauty in a rough-cut slab of wood. Watching my husband work all these years has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the warmth and soul of a piece of wood.” Donna went on to tell me that Ted’s art includes much more than wood carving – photography, painting and even his surfing is an art form. “I have always said he is like a ballerina on a surfboard – filled with grace.”

“I was working with wood even before I was married,” Ted said thoughtfully, reaching back to the beginning of his career. “I opened my own wood shop in 1978, the same year my son was born. My dad, my brother Bruce and I made all the tables for the then-new Pier 17 restaurant in Murrells Inlet.” Another local restaurant, Drunken Jack’s, has been using Ted’s tables and bar tops since they opened 33 years ago. Creating pieces to last many lifetimes is important to this artist. “I like to say I’m creating tomorrow’s antiques. In today’s society, so much is just thrown away after a few years of use. We don’t buy things to last. But, it’s very special to own something that was in your family for 100 years or more. Donna and I have pieces that belonged to her parents and grandparents that mean a lot to us.” Through the years, Ted has created and given his wife “heirlooms” that will be passed down to Matthew.

Patience and vision are two of the necessary traits of an artist who works with wood. After a tree is cut into boards, it must be carefully stacked and dried for several years. When we met, Ted was preparing to cut a walnut tree that will be ready to use in about three years. “I work in my shop every day, except the day I work in the gallery,” said Ted. “I look at the grain and decide how I want to use the wood – the larger boards are usually used for tables and larger furniture, and I use the limbs for carving.” Ted creates his own vision of beauty in each piece of wood.

While wood is the focus of Ted’s creative vision, water is where he nurtures his spirit and spends time with friends who understand the pull of the wave. Local surfer and businessman, Ron Rader, has been friends with Ted for many years. “Ted and I have surfed together since the ’60s. He is a great surfer and a good man – he always tries to do the right thing. Ted is a man of principle.” Ron went on to tell me about the many surfing events that Ted participates in, most recently the Happy Hendricks Benefit. Happy was a much-loved fixture in the local surfing community and after he lost his life in an accident, his friends came together to help his widow and family. Both Ron and Ted are members of the Eastern Surfing Association and are lifelong competitors. “Surfers stick together,” Ron stated emphatically. “We want to be a positive influence in the community.”

Ted describes surfing as an art. “We paint with a board on a wave. This is a spiritual sport.” As we talked about surfing Ted reminisced about his early days on the beach. “Back when I started, we didn’t have mentors. Now, we all try to help the young surfers. Another of the things we do is organize paddle-outs after a surfer dies. Nearly all of them want their ashes put in the ocean.” Even before he started surfing, Ted loved the sand and waves. “I worked as a beach monkey from about 7 years old until I was 15. Beach monkeys helped the lifeguards, chasing floats and setting up chairs.”

Blessed to be able to do what he loves each day, Ted is grateful for his life and work. “I love working with my customers to design their special piece. And, they know they will never have to replace something I’ve built, it will last for many lifetimes. I love life when I’m creating.”

For information about commissions or to see more of the artist’s work, contact Ted at 843-907-4453 or stop by Ebb and Flow Gallery in Murrells Inlet.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “Ted Watts: A Life of Wood and Water”

  1. I can honestly say I have known Ted all my life.

    We were part of the neighborhood pack of kids living around the corner from the old Hickory House Drive-In.

    Although I live in Oklahoma now, I long for the beach and live vicariously through Ted’s surfing posts.

    I stopped in for a visit last year when I was in town and saw Ted for the first time in many years. It was good to catch up.

    -Mickey Mills
    The Prodigal Scribe

  2. Shannon Wolfe says:

    My parents, Bill and Betty Wolfe, were great friends with Don and Sarah (Ted’s parents). We will love to get in contact with the family again. My mom has been thinking of them. If you could pass on my email address to Ted-that would be great. Thanks so much.
    Shannon Wolfe

Leave your mark with style

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close