Updated: Jun 1, 2019
Written by Sarah McCullen | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Roxie Woodworks founder John Haltom honors family and place with handmade furniture that's built to last.
John Haltom, founder of Roxie Woodworks, has Mississippi roots that run as deep as those of the trees he uses in his unique, hand-carved wooden furniture. After a stint in Seattle, the seventh generation Mississippian, along with his wife and son, recently settled in Oxford to fulfill his woodworking dream.
Growing up on 13 rural acres in Ridgeland, Haltom was always interested in Native American history and westward expansion. He often spent his days, and sometimes his nights, in the woods practicing primitive skills that piqued his interest.
“My parents let my brothers [and me] just do our own individual things,” Haltom said. “My brother used to draw cityscapes and now he’s a building developer, and my younger brother played with K’NEX and now he’s an engineer. I wanted to learn to hunt and fish, but I wanted to do it myself — to carve the bow and kill a deer with a bow that I actually made.”
At age 7, Haltom carved his first longbow, and used it to shoot a whitetail deer. But he quickly realized that he found more enjoyment in woodworking than hunting. By age 16, his natural talent and devotion to the craft had led him to become the youngest member of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi.
Five generations of his family graduated from Ole Miss, but Haltom attended the University of Montana to satisfy his craving for the outdoors. During the summers, he worked for the forest service both in Montana and Colorado as a wilderness ranger.
“There, I was always outside, using a chainsaw, working with my hands,” Haltom said. “I’ve never worked a day in my life at a desk, so when the forest service offered me a job that would mean trading 90 percent of time outside for 90 percent of time at a desk, that pushed me away.”
Haltom moved to Seattle and remodeled homes for three years before he landed a job with Urban Hardwoods, a company that crafts solid wooden furniture using wood from salvaged trees. As one of six men building furniture, Haltom improved his skills by working alongside seasoned professionals.
“In Seattle, the trees grow so fast because of all the rain, but in urban areas they were pruned, which means they got huge,” Haltom said. “We got walnut logs six feet in diameter. While I was there, I got to build a dining table out of a single slab of black walnut that was 10 feet long.”
Haltom valued the experience he gained at Urban Hardwoods, but he knew he wanted more.
“I met with my boss and basically told him ‘This is kind of awkward, but I want your job,’” Haltom said. “He appreciated my honesty and my desire to move up in the company, but he was like, ‘This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.’”
Haltom, newly married and ready to start a family, realized it was time to make a change. After almost six years in Seattle, he and his wife, Katey, left to make Oxford their new home. Now, after the birth of their son, Carothers, and several years in Oxford, Haltom’s dream is a reality.
“When we moved, I was trying to think of a name and a brand, and it’s really hard to come up with a business name,” Haltom said. “My son is named after my grandfather’s brother, Boothe Carothers Haltom. I knew that, like my son’s name, I want what I do to reflect and honor my family.”
While brainstorming names for his new Mississippi-based business, Haltom recalled a piece of family history that he discovered as a teenager. His grandfather had owned a sawmill in Roxie, Mississippi, years before Haltom was born. “Roxie Woodworks” had a nice ring to it, so the name stuck and the company was born.
Using locally sourced southern American hardwoods like walnut, cherry, maple, cypress, oak and others, Haltom crafts sleek, sturdy furniture every day at the Roxie Woodworks shop about five miles north of Oxford’s Square. Similar to Urban Hardwoods, he only uses logs that would otherwise be destined for a landfill, and the whole process, from drying the slabs to the final product, takes place at the shop.
“There’s a lot of development around here,” Haltom said. “A lot of homes going up and trees coming down. Instead of paying someone to haul them to a dump, I’d like to use those trees. It’s satisfying to have a tree from a family property that you can make into your dining table.”
Haltom specializes in stand-alone pieces like dining tables, coffee tables, benches and stools. He also creates surfaces like bar tops or kitchen islands, finishing all of his pieces with a commercial-grade Italian finish.
“Some people think you can just put oil and wax on a dining table, but that’s not going to hold up,” Haltom said. “My [toddler] goes to town banging on my coffee table, and it’s shown me evidence that that finish can take a beating.”
While currently available at Fischer Galleries in Jackson, both Southside Gallery and Oxford Treehouse Gallery have featured Haltom’s work. Walter Neill of Oxford Treehouse Gallery works with Haltom whenever clients request that metal be incorporated in the design of a piece.
“In eighth grade he was making shoes and clothes, tanning hides out of deer skins and making bows,” Neill said. “If you can make bows, that in itself means you’re a good woodworker, but John’s a master of a fine finish. You could pour water on [his work] and leave town and it’d be fine.”
Neill, who has known Haltom since he was young and watched him develop his skills, is confident in Haltom’s work. When country music star Brad Paisley’s manager Bill Simmons wanted a custom-built table, Neill recommended Haltom.
“[Haltom is] so talented and knows exactly what he wants,” Neill said. “And he’s super-picky, which is good. I know people will be happy when I recommend him, and I know his work will stand the test of time.”
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