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Jenes Cottrell


Traditional musician and craftsman Jenes Cottrell (September 14, 1901-December 7, 1980) was descended from the earliest settlers of Clay County. Known for their farming and trading, the Cottrells also worked with wood. During the arts and crafts revival beginning in the 1960s, Jenes Cottrell became one of the best-known practitioners of the old ways. He made toys, rolling pins, chairs, and canes, and he put in chair bottoms of woven wood splits. He had a fine foot-powered, spring-pole lathe which he used to demonstrate his skill at festivals throughout West Virginia and beyond. He drew people as flies swarm to sugar. Somewhere along the way Cottrell had begun to make banjo rims using aluminum torque converter rings from 1956 Buick transmissions. He quickly became known for making and playing banjos. Murray Smith, a Clay County banker, began treks with Cottrell all over the country to carry him to meet the public.

Cottrell was born, lived, and died on Deadfall Run, the home of his ancestors. He lived there with a sister, Sylvia O’Brien, also a musician and an exemplar of the old ways. There was never any electricity, gas, or running water in Cottrell’s home. The house had never been painted. He never owned a car or a telephone. Jenes Cottrell was a quiet man with simple wants and a simple life who was proud of his heritage. He and Sylvia are buried next to their father at Boggs Cemetery not far from Big Otter.

Written by Jane Taylor Cox George


  1. Screven, Tom. Remembering Jenes Cottrell. Goldenseal, (Apr.-June 1981).