It is unclear when you meet him whether Noah Alicia ever sits down. Animated and infectiously enthusiastic, Noah engages with a proselytizer’s fervor, extolling the virtues of life in Western North Carolina and sharing his passion as a whittler and woodworker. Yet, despite his perpetual animation, he has a mild demeanor that belies the force of will and determination that surely fueled his journey to Western North Carolina.
Meeting on a sunny day in November at the playground of the Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center, he was with his wife, Melayna, and their two small children, 18-month Matthias and 3-year-old Thaddeus. A third child is expected in April. Between interruptions, as they monitored their “babies” glide down the park’s slide and scale its climbing dome, Noah and Melayna revealed their love story and how and why they founded a business, Beholder’s Beauty, focusing on handcrafted items.
Natives of Hephziba, Ga., a rural community outside Augusta, Noah and Melayna were high school sweethearts before attending college in Valdosta together. Married their senior year in college in 2019, their dream was always to have a big family and be “present for the family.” The move to Franklin in 2020 and the initiation of Noah’s woodworking business marked the fulfillment of that goal. Reflecting on their decision, Noah shared, “We realized when we moved here how supportive the community is for entrepreneurs, allowing us to lead richer daily lives while prioritizing our family. Getting here has been our dream.”
Noah’s evolution into a full-time woodworker is a testament to his resilience, determination, and imagination. With a background in visual arts and a childhood spent around trees, Noah had started whittling at an early age – making pocketknives and as he said, “whatever a boy’s imagination can lead to.” He went to a fine arts magnet school for his middle and high school years and had an early career as a tattoo artist creating designs for others to ink. That artistic bent ultimately intersected with his passion for history, and he decided to explore and learn about wood crafts in American history.
Delving into historical accounts, Noah discovered that American Indians facing resource constraints ingeniously fashioned everyday items, such as spoons and cups, out of wood. Noah mined history books for information about wooden weaponry and discovered that indigenous peoples developed unique weapons, like clubs and spears. Further exploration eventually took him to the Irish invention, the Shillelagh, a club or cudgel made traditionally of blackthorn or oak.
Ever curious, he expanded his self-teaching to include wooden musical instruments and discovered the joy that can be found in creating music with humble and homemade devices. In fact, canjos, whistles, and flutes trace their roots back to folk instruments long ago popularized in Appalachia and other parts of the United States.
One of the most coveted items in Noah’s portfolio, the canjo, is a simple neck made of wood, with one end holding turning pegs and the other featuring a can that works as a resonator. The attached strings are made of fishing line. The canjo can be made of a variety of cans, including spam cans. The simplicity of the design encourages enthusiasts to experiment with different tunings and playing techniques.
Although Noah enjoys playing bluegrass on the canjo, he touts that he has been able to “pull some rock out of it” and has even played some looney tunes for the kids. Other musical instruments include whistles and flute staffs – essentially hiking sticks with built-in flutes or whistles.
Additionally, items in his broad repertoire of crafted items include wooden pens, which he likes to make a little thicker to compensate for the carpal tunnel syndrome that prevails among many of his clients. His extensive cadre of work also consists of an extensive assortment of figurines, along with wooden jewelry – rings, pendants, necklaces, and charms.
While the diversity of Noah’s work makes it difficult to categorize, each piece he creates serves as an homage to his locale, utilizing woods that are either donated or sourced from his own property.
“I take pride in free-handed craftsmanship and a minimal use of machinery and have recently built a workshop at my home,” he said.
Weekly he makes five to 10 larger items and numerous smaller pieces. At the same time, he is always working on custom orders. For Christmas, he fabricated a reindeer for a neighbor’s yard. Specialty items like hiking sticks with personalized logos, slogans, or emblems are also sought after. In fact, the selection of items in the portfolio continues to grow as his customer base and their needs expand.
While much of Noah’s art reaches patrons through festivals and social media, his growing online presence includes a website under construction, and his walking sticks are available at the Foxfire Museum in Mountain City, offering enthusiasts a tangible connection to his craftsmanship.
Supporting Noah in his endeavors and assuring his success is Melayna, who handles the accounting, financial aspects, and social media, while still working from home as a freelance writer and editor. She also recently completed certification as a fertility care practitioner and maintains her own blog, stumblingtosainthood.com.
“My mission has always been to put God and family first, and all of this is derived from that,” said Noah. “It has led us to where we are today and what we have been able to do.”