Jill Wagner popped out of N.C. State University 15 years ago with a business degree, a $4,000 go-play gift from her grandparents and a desire to get far away from home.
She landed in Los Angeles, found a cheap apartment and gradually got involved in the entertainment industry.
Now she’s hosting “Handcrafted America” airing 8 p.m. Tuesdays on INSP, profiling artisans across the nation, including several in the Carolinas.
Produced by Charlotte-based Susie Films and airing on Indian Land, S.C.-based INSP, “Handcrafted America” gives Wagner a close-up view of those who have a talent she doesn’t.
“I wish I could say I had any skills to build anything with my hands,” she says. “I have so much respect for people who can.”
One of the first craftsmen she profiled was Bobby Denton, who hand-carves classic rifles in Morganton.
“I shoot guns and my dad was a Marine, so he taught me from a young age how to safely use a weapon,” Wagner says. “I don’t kill any animals or people, by the way.”
Other Carolinas artisans she’s put on the show include Scott Woody of Woody’s Chair Shop in Spruce Pine, Eddie Hamrick of Hamrick Woodwright in Hickory, hand-tailored jeans-maker Stan Fraser of Straight Stitch in Charlotte, Shawn Weathers of Brown Dog Wood Co. who builds furniture from recycled wood in Charlotte and Heritage artisanal furniture-maker James Broyhill II of Randleman.
Modesty and a sense of peace in their work is something the artisans seem to have in common, Wagner says.
“They have all the patience in the world. It’s almost like therapy for them.”
Wagner, 37, was born in Winston-Salem and grew up in nearby Wallburg. She went to California with some modeling experience.
“Show business kind of found me,” says Wagner, who never studied drama or acted in a school play.
She went to an audition for an MTV show called “Punk’d” with Ashton Kutcher and landed a role in the cast.
She later became co-host of the reality show “Wipeout,” found other acting roles and was the TV spokesmodel for the Ford Mercury brand for six years.
When she left for California, she expected she’d wind up back home working in her father’s tire shop. She’s learned over the years how much she misses home.
“I couldn’t wait to claw my way out of North Carolina,” she says. “Now, 15 years later, I’m clawing to get back there. It’s my most favorite place in the world.”