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If you’ve ever seen HGTV’s “Home Town,” you know Ben Napier is great at taking something old and worn and making it into something functional and beautiful. On the popular show, Napier and his wife, Erin, have worked together to transform their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, one house at a time. Recently, though, the craftsman dedicated some time in his workshop to a personal project connected to the University of Mississippi, where he and Erin happened to go to school.
Napier handcrafted a writing desk using wood that came from the Ole Miss campus and donated it to the university’s English department. The school showed off its famous alum’s handiwork on Twitter.
— Ole Miss (@OleMiss) February 19, 2022
The wood provided to Napier had special meaning to the university, and when Napier found out about it, he knew he had to get involved with such a prized material.
“A friend of mine reached out to me explaining that he had gotten his hands on some wood from the campus at Ole Miss,” said Napier in a press release from the university. “There were two slabs of oak and the slab of cedar from Rowan Oak.”
Rowan Oak is the name of the historic former Mississippi home of author William Faulkner, perhaps the most famous graduate of Ole Miss. His works, including the novels “As I Lay Dying” and “The Sound and the Fury,” are among some of the most revered in 20th century American literature. Having a functional piece tied directly to him is an inspiring gift, according to Caroline Wigginton, Ole Miss’ English department chair and associate professor.
“William Faulkner is an iconic Mississippi author, and we are honored to have Ben Napier’s beautifully crafted desk,” Wigginton said in the press release. “Its presence in the department represents our community’s literary heritage and also our creative writers’ talent for adapting the materials of the past to imagine a vivid and sustainable future.”
At first, Napier said he considered building bookshelves out of the reclaimed wood. However, after seeing the wood slabs, he decided to keep them intact and build a desk out of them. Some of the Napier’s build was recorded for an episode of “Home Town: Ben’s Workshop.” It was during the taping that Napier decided to donate the desk to the English department of Ole Miss, rather than auctioning it off to benefit the school, as he had originally planned.
“The producers of the show approached me to see if we would accept the donated desk and if we had a good place to put it,” said Matt Bondurant, associate professor of English and director of the Ole Miss creative writing program in the same press release. “Ben wanted to donate it to the MFA/creative writing program at UM because of his love of literature, writing, etc., and his fond memories of being an English minor.”
Now the desk has a place of honor inside the Ole Miss English department, where educators and students can use the historic piece and appreciate its history, as well as the love of a proud graduate.