Living Portrait Series: Gary Lunsford

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATHAN CHESKY

For the month of November, Asheville photographer Nathan Chesky is exploring the grounds of Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher, an open-air market he has been visiting for more than a decade. 

Gary Lunsford, 70, of East Asheville, has been selling at a permanent booth at Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher for more than 12 years. I spent an early autumn morning walking around his space with him, asking him questions about the market, his life and collecting. I picked up a few things, took a couple portraits of him surrounded by his wares, and we talked about the history of the area and of some of his items. Lunsford has everything for sale from dolls to guns, from sturdy ancient metal axes to completely natural and fragile wasp nests, both of which were plucked out of nearby barns.

Nathan: So Gary, How long have you been selling out here at Smiley’s?

Gary: I have been here about 10 years, 10 to 12 years here in this spot, in this booth.

Nathan: How and where do you acquire your collections?

Gary: People bring it to me, and I go everywhere. From Tennessee, Pennsylvania, different places. I have done it for so long I know people I can buy from and they know me….(speaking to customers) Do y’all need some help here? Those are bee’s nests. They come out of Hendersonville.

Nathan: How long have you been collecting?

Gary: Oh lord! I’d say I’ve messed with this old stuff for up to over 40 years.

Nathan: When you’re out there looking what in particular are you looking for?

Gary: I like horse-drawn stuff, like old plows, wagons — stuff like that.  And I get into axles and anvils. I like to mess with those. I’ve just always bought old things.

Nathan: This is a little different. (I hold up a heavy yet handheld sized Buddha statue I found in the back part of his shop.) What can you tell me about its story?

Gary: Them came out of Fort Bragg. I wanted the Big Buddhas. The big ones, they went out of here fast. That’s all that is left. It’s $25.

Nathan: So what was your line of work before you spent most of your time out here?

Gary: Ingles. Ingles produce. I was in Ingles produce for 12 years. Retired four years now.

Nathan: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever found while on the road?

Gary: Griswold frying pans. We sell a lot of Griswold. They’re high dollar.

Nathan: Where did you get that snakeskin?

Gary: That came out from near Cherokee. That’s a rattlesnake. That’s a female there. I sold the male.

Nathan: How can you tell?

Gary: The female is yellow. I asked the same question to the hide man. He’s the one who told me.

Nathan: So are you here year-round?

Gary: Yeah, right here, snow, sleet or shine. If there’s a dollar involved, I’m here. (Laughs.) And I’ll sell stuff on craigslist. I’m out (of) here through the week — if people call me, I’ll come out. I’ll meet whoever calls me to meet them out here. I don’t sit out here through the week. I’m out on the road. But people will bring me stuff out here. They just know I’m here.

Nathan: How do you know where and what to buy?

Gary: People call me through the week. They will find stuff out at yard sales or barns or wherever and call me and I’ll usually buy it. That’s what I do through the week.

Nathan: Seems like a lot of people know you, that’s for sure.

Gary: I enjoy it. I enjoy talking and cutting up with people. That’s the best part. Well a lot of people call and a lot of people just walk in. Thanks for coming in. Come back anytime. There has got to be something in here you need!