Fred J. Carter was born on January 6, 1911 on the Cherokee and Daniel Boone Trail near Duffield, in southwest Virginia. His ancestors on both sides came to the lush wooded mountain area with legendary pioneer woodsman Daniel Boone. Fred's father, James David Carter, practiced law for more than fifty years in the county seat in Gate City, Virginia. His mother, Viola Fraley Carter, was accomplished in soap and rug making, embroidery and child rearing. Their home was filled with music, books, Native American artifacts and fossils found and collected by his father. His two sisters became teachers, two of his brothers became professors and linguists, another a war hero and author of a best-selling memoir. Carter's beloved uncle, Ed Fraley, was a United Mine Workers member and human rights activist who left for Russia after graduating college to better understand the ideals of the 1917 Revolution. All this made the Carter family unusual citizens in a county then dominated by poverty and lack of education.
Fred Carter's adopted son, Ross, died tragically during his first marriage, an event that would influence his thinking and artistic practice for the rest of his life. With his beautiful and young second wife, Vickie, Carter realized a miracle when he became a delighted father again at age 72 with the birth of their daughter, Holly, soon followed by the birth of their second daughter, Mary.
Despite his age, Carter was an energetic, adoring father and husband. He and Vickie built their own home, incorporating an immense boulder, the subject of local Indian lore, into the structure of the house. Fred was always a hard worker. He helped run the family farm from boyhood, worked for various hardware and furniture stores, and was a very capable stonemason. He saved money, eventually owned and operated a successful hardware and furniture store, and founded The Carter Home Improvement Company. Business was always a necessary means for expressing his social conscience through art. Fearing young people would not appreciate the lessons of their independent pioneer forebearers, Carter took his collection of farming, mining, spinning and moonshining artifacts and founded The Cumberland Museum in 1970—for over a decade he and Vickie fought to keep the doors open despite lack of community support. But close friendships with artists Max Bernd-Cohen, Jack Wright, and D.R. Mullins brought him peace, direction and validation. He stayed abreast of world news to the end, always struggling to better understand humankind's addiction to war, cruelty, destruction of nature, and the devastation of so many drug-addicted young people. "Man is becoming so dehumanized and desensitized," Carter said. "The Biblical people would call that Armageddon. It's just the destruction of man by himself."
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