Carl Spencer wood carvings among many attractions for Helen Brown’s yard sale

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 22, 2019

SALISBURY — Carl Spencer was one of those rare talents — a folklorist, a historian on Native Americans, a wood carver and a syndicated cartoonist.

His illustrations under the titles of “Odd Facts in Carolina,” “Tar Heel Stuff” and “Whoppers” found their way to many local newspapers, including the Salisbury Post. He contributed drawings and columns to the Post for 51 years.

But it was about 60 years ago that Spencer began seeing things in the driftwood he picked up along the Yadkin River backwaters — particularly walnut and cedar that had been under mud and water for decades.

What he saw were the start of figures — a mouth here, an arm or chin there. They became launching points for Spencer’s unique wood carvings that he considered simply a transference of his cartoon drawings into three-dimensional abstracts, semi-abstracts and caricatures.

“He said nature was the artist,” Helen Brown says.

Thanks to a donation from Anne Crawford, Brown is thrilled to be offering numerous wood carvings of Spencer’s as some of the featured items in her semi-annual yard sale this Friday and Saturday for cystic fibrosis research.

Since she started her yard sales in 2001, Brown and her loyal army of volunteers have raised right at $250,000 for the cause, which is quite personal for Brown.

Her now grown grandchildren, Anna and Michael, have coped with CF, a hereditary disorder, their whole lives and have benefited from some of the advances made through research.

“My grandchildren are doing well and will be here,” Brown promises.

Brown demands a high-quality yard sale. Everything is cleaned, washed, repaired (if needed), painted, fluffed and priced.

“That makes people want to come back the next time,” Brown explains.

And all the items since that first yard sale have been donated. The Spencer carvings were collected, for example, by Anne Crawford’s late husband, Dr. John R. Crawford III, and “she just wanted to share them with me,” a grateful Brown says.

The giant yard sale will be held from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church’s Family Ministry Center (the old YMCA), 223 N. Fulton St.

“It’s going to be a big sale,” Brown says. “It is probably going to be my biggest.”

With the Spencer wood carvings — he died in 1988 — Brown plans to place a notebook of Salisbury Post newspaper clippings about Spencer and his career.

Included will be a 1963 story, headlined “The Strange World of Mr. Spencer,” that focused on his wood carvings.

Brown also is excited that the yard sale is offering century-old French furniture, including a bed, couch and dining room set. Ralph and Helen Brown themselves have donated for sale several pieces of oak furniture.

Brenda Zimmerman, Brown’s chief lieutenant, said a retired teacher has contributed a wealth of teaching supplies and educational materials that should be attractive to both teachers and students.

Brown mentions one other item donated by Anne Crawford — a decorative Mexican tree made of tin that is both attractive and unusual.

But as always the gymnasium floor at the Family Ministry Center will be filled with a many other items such as appliances, dishware, flatware, glassware, pottery, linens, area rugs, vintage baby clothes, an aquarium, Hallmark Barbies, office supplies, walkers, books, a jewelry armoire, luggage, lamps, wall art, a dorm refrigerator and more.

“If you need one, we have one,” Zimmerman says.

The event requires about 20 to 25 volunteers. “You get on Helen’s list, and you have to die to get off,” Zimmerman says, laughing.

And Brown’s to-do list for the month before the sales is lengthy. Carloads and truckloads of items have to be moved from the Browns’ garage and basement to the ministry center. Bottled water, sodas, snacks and meals are ordered and planned.

Brown makes sure she feeds all of her help, and a grant from Thrivent is helping with those expenses this year.

Fliers about the yard sale are distributed to 30 different places and as far away as Lexington and Mocksville. An advertisement is prepared for the newspaper.

“I can’t do all the legwork anymore,” says Brown, who is marking her 86th birthday today. “My volunteers do all the legwork.”

From the beginning, Brown has kept a record of all the items donated and the names of the people who have contributed. She still sends thank-you notes and receipts to everyone who donates something.

“She does a tremendous amount of correspondence,” Zimmerman says.

Besides the yard sales, Helen Brown and her volunteers — Zimmerman says they are like family — also have relied on proceeds from estate sales to add to the funds for CF research.

In those instances, 50% of the money raised goes to the cause, and Brown also is allowed to have things that are left over for future yard sales.

The Family Ministry Center has proved to be a great location for the yard sale, which used to be held at the Browns’ Salisbury home. There is plenty of air-conditioned room inside and generous parking outside.

Through the years, the sales have attracted devoted customers. One man usually attends both days and brings doughnuts with him each time.

“We like him,” Zimmerman says.

“We like all of them,” Brown says.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or