Greg Harkins, right, and Gov.-elect Tate Reeves hold up a photo President Donald Trump signed of a rocking chair Harkins built for the president.
Greg Harkins, right, and Gov.-elect Tate Reeves hold up a photo President Donald Trump signed of a rocking chair Harkins built for the president.
Greg Harkins gifted his sixth President of the United States a handmade rocking chair earlier this month when Donald J. Trump visited Tupelo.

Harkins, 67, has been a craftsman for 47 years, building handmade rocking chairs out of hardwood. He is the owner of Harkins Chairs in Canton.

One might think that after six presidents and no telling how man other celebrities and public figures, Harkins would have developed a routine but he said that every president has been different.

“None ever came down the same way. All were different,” Harkins said. “President Trump was very interesting to meet.”

Harkins said that the President was a “warm and friendly” guy.

“He was very easy to talk to. Like if I called you up and said let's get a beer. I am sure there is a certain amount of practice that goes into that of course,” Harkins said. “It couldn’t have gone better.”

Fontaine Bowie, Harkins' partner, said that this trip to Tupelo was an “interesting adventure.”

She said that her impression of the man was that he was “nice, personable, and down to earth kind of guy.”

Trump joins the ranks of presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as recipients of chairs. Other recipients have included Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippian Morgan Freeman.

Harkins said he was able to meet the president with Gov. Phil Bryant and Sen. Roger Wicker. He said pictures were taken by White House staff and although he was not able to present the chair to the president at that time, he did sign a photograph of the chair. 

Harkins said they are working on arrangements, but he hopes it will include a White House visit. This would be Harkins' third visit to the White House.

“I would like to drive it up there myself if possible,” Harkins said.

He remembers the first time he visited the building to visit President Reagan after presenting him with a chair at the Neshoba County Fair.

“I was surprised. I pulled up to the gate, like driving up to the newspaper or something, and gave them my name and they said ‘Yes Mr. Harkins we have been expecting you, come on through,’” Harkins said.

His subsequent visits under George W. Bush saw a more stringent vetting process.

“I remember the second time they ran a dog around my car and the third they looked even more carefully, which is what I had expected,” Harkins said.

Harkins' chairs are hand-made to his own pattern out of salvaged wood. This one was made out of bodock wood and usually retails for around $2,500. Bodock is the Mississippi version of the French word “bois d’arc.”

Its botanical name is Maclura pomifera. Found in fencerows and waste places, the wood of bodock is among the toughest and most resistant to decay in the plant kingdom.

Harkins said this wood came from a bodock tree recently felled in Pontotoc and was believed to be one of the oldest and largest bodock trees in existence. 

“It is a hardwood and hard to find but if you look long enough you can find it,” Harkins said.

Harkins was given a truckload from the tree and has afforded him enough wood to make three chairs, one for Trump, another slated for Vice President Mike Pence and a third for sale.

The wood is canary yellow in color but over time will oxidize into a deep rosewood color in appearance.

Each chair takes a minimum of 20 hours of work to complete.

“President Trump approved of the quality of the workmanship,” Harkins said.

He said he was able to tell the president about two projects he is currently working on. The first is the restoration of the church building his family attended for generations.

The old church house has been moved to his property near Canton and is currently being restored. Harkins hopes to use it as a combination music venue and classroom to give musicians a way to make money.

“If you are a musician, unless you are John Lennon, you probably did not make a bunch of money. I hope I can help support some of them with this,” Harkins said.

The second is the Greg Harkins School of Arts and Crafts where Harkins teaches old crafts and trades like his signature chair making. He said they would offer courses on bow turning and bark pulling and “old world” treats.

“I have learned a lot over the years and I don’t want these skills to die with me,” Harkens aid.

Harkins said that he was proud to present this chair and his current projects to the President.

“I think he was real impressed by that,” He said.