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Jean Becnel makes furniture as it was in the past.
Master woodworker will present craft at Folk Fest
Structural preservationist will speak during this year's event
Mary Beth Maggio, Loyola student volunteer

NATCHITOCHES – While Northwestern State University’s Louisiana Folklife Center bursts into activity getting ready for the upcoming Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival to be held July 17-18, crafter Jean Becnel is also getting ready to bring his work to share with those attending.

Beginning his journey at the age of 14, Jean Becnel found his craft by accident. While investigating a rather loud ruckus coming from his neighbor’s shed, what he found was a handmade furniture shop. Before he knew it, he was put to work learning one of the oldest crafts in Louisiana’s history. Using only hand tools for a year and a half into his apprenticeship, Becnel learned how to make furniture just as it was made four generations back. After working as a professional furniture builder in St. Louis, Becnel moved back down to Louisiana looking for a little something more. “It wasn’t the building,” Becnel explains. “I don’t care for the end product, it’s the journey.”

Now a part of the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, Jean Becnel is the primary Structural Preservationist and instructor of Traditional Woodworking and Early Timber Trades. “People need to know this stuff,” Becnel states. “It’s a part of history, and art that we aren’t teaching. Furniture is important, but not as important as getting to know the person that made it. You find all these details…a scratch that was the result of a process or tool, and I feel an obligation to learn about the person that made those marks.”

Though known as a Master Woodworker, Becnel believes no one really masters woodworking. “I’ve made hundreds of dovetail drawers, and every time I make one, I learn something new.” Now passing down the historic tradition to his students at LSU, Becnel encourages learning primarily using hand tools. Becnel states, “It teaches a respect for the wood you just don’t have with power tools.”

Becnel will be demonstrating traditional furniture building for anyone interested to speak to him about his experience and techniques. He will also take part in a narrative session titled “The Creole Table” from 12:00-12:45 on Saturday July 18. Dr. Jack Holden, author of Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835, will also take part in the session, which will be moderated by anthropologist Dr. Hiram “Pete” Gregory.

Another opportunity on Saturday for anyone interested in wood carving is the woodcarving workshop presented by Roy Parfait and Michael Yankowski. Space is limited for only 20 participants. If you are interested in participating, register by sending your name, address, and phone number to: or call the Louisiana Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332.

The 36th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival will be held on Friday, July 17th and Saturday, July 18th in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum which is located at 220 South Jefferson Street, on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. The site is wheelchair accessible and the festival is family oriented. Children 12 and under receive free admission to all events on both days. Tickets can be purchased at Prather Coliseum on July 17th and 18th. The ticket booth opens at 4:30 pm on July 17th and at 8:00 am on July 18th. The Festival closes at 10:30 pm both nights. The Festival features three stages of music and food on both days, and on Saturday the Festival will also include crafts, narrative sessions, and the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship.

The 2015 Festival theme is “Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana’s Rural Folklife.” The Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival prides itself on the craftsmanship and artisanship the attending crafters bring. More than three dozen craftspeople, including Becnel, will display their traditional work on Saturday and discuss their work with those attending the Festival. Craftspeople are expected to display furniture, art, toys, dolls, jewelry, whips, musical instruments, baskets, beadwork and more. For more information go to or visit the Louisiana Folklife Center Facebook page at

 Support for the Festival is provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, City Bank & Trust Co., the City of Natchitoches, Elite Broadcasting, the Louisiana Division of the Arts – Shreveport Regional Arts Council, and the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Park Service, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation Inc., Time-It Lube LLC, and Weyerhaeuser of Natchitoches.