Whitesburg KY

Arts and crafts is more than a hobby

CRAFT COUPLE -  Doreen and Wendell Calhoun display some of the unique bowls they have made.

CRAFT COUPLE – Doreen and Wendell Calhoun display some of the unique bowls they have made.

We tend to remember pleasant days and repress bad days. That’s why my recent visit with Doreen and Wendell Calhoun of Letcher will be one of those indelible memories.

I called to get directions to their home then passed it up the first time around because I was daydreaming when I passed the landmarks which Doreen mentioned. When I spoke with her on the phone I told her I would like to come by and get some photographs and do an interview. Her voice was friendly and spirited; I knew I was going to like her. She said that the shop was so cluttered that I would not be able to get in it.

I caught up with Wendell busy at his wood lathe in his workshop. The shop is a quaint little gray building with piles of wood of various grades and varieties outside and inside. I pecked on the open door a couple times to get his attention. He appeared just as I had imagined except that his countenance and demeanor belied his actual age of 78 years. He looked much younger. He wore a tattered ball cap and denim apron. We chatted for a few minutes as he showed me some of the bowls he was working on.

WOODWORKING -  Wendell Calhoun works on his wood lathe.

WOODWORKING – Wendell Calhoun works on his wood lathe.

“If you’ve got a good block of wood to start with you can turn it on the lathe and make a bowl from a solid piece then apply polyurethane to keep it from splitting. Otherwise you can take boards and laminate them into a block. Then I turn it over to my wife Doreen to cut it round with a band saw. After she has done her part I put it on my lathe and begin turning it to get the desired shape. Each bowl is unique. No two are ever the same. In the final phase I take various files and continue turning and smoothing. When I get through with it I turn it over to my wife again and she uses various grits of sandpaper to get the wood as smooth as possible. Most of the time she just puts polyurethane on the wood to maintain the natural color and to enhance the grain of the wood. Occasionally she will use a stain if the wood is just ordinary.”

He showed me the bowl he was working on. He had laminated pine, ash, poplar and walnut and was almost finished with the turning process. A chunk of cedar lay close by.

“That’s my next one,” he said. The wood had red veins running through it. I could already imagine what a beautiful bowl it would be when finished.

I had him move some objects so I could get in position to take a few photographs then we moved toward his home to meet Doreen and have a look at some finished products. Along the way he showed me some discarded sawmill scraps which he will salvage for signs and such. They excitedly showed me some of the bowls, candlestick holders, figures, paper towel dispensers, clock and signs that they had made with each one’s talent complementing the other. The house was filled with their handiwork: some to be sold at the numerous arts and crafts shows they attend each year and many pieces of furniture from chest of drawers to dressers to shelving to kitchen cabinets and tables.

“Have you ever seen anything you can’t make?” I asked.

“Not yet,” replied Wendell with a proud gleam in his eyes.

We chatted about their personal lives; they have been married 18 years. Each had been married before and both spouses had died. They met in the church which they attended. Wendell had lived in Richmond, Va., early in his career where he served an apprenticeship to become a bricklayer. He was originally from Hindman. Doreen is a native of Letcher and is retired from the Bank of Whitesburg.

“I thought I would retire a few years ago,” said Wendell, “but it just didn’t work out. I bought a camper and pontoon and thought we would travel and fish. They’re parked here in the yard and we rarely use them. I still do some contracting as a bricklayer and making wood products.”

Wendell said he has been doing woodworking for about 30 years with no formal training.

“I would see a tool that I liked and I would buy it and teach myself how to use it.” He showed me a bookshelf with dozens of “How To” books that he had studied.

“He’s still buying tools,” said Doreen. “Wendell was sawing and turning and throwing away small pieces of wood. Now I won’t let him throw away anything. I’ll take his scrap and saw for two-three days then I’ll paint for two-three days.”

Doreen’s other hobby is photography. She and Wendell had made their own frames and she learned to do matting.

“I have literally thousands of photographs I have taken. I took a few classes and a lot of my skills are self-taught,” said Doreen. “I have to stay busy; my daughter died unexpectedly recently at age 39. She had been having health problems which were misdiagnosed. The autopsy showed that she had an undiagnosed brain aneurysm.

“Wendell and I both get absorbed in our crafts and it helps take our minds off our grief. Sometimes I will get busy painting and finishing a piece of art and look up to find that it is past midnight. Then I’ll go out to the shop and get Wendell to come in the house. He, too, had forgotten the late hour. Selling our crafts is not the most important part. We enjoy getting out and meeting other crafters and having people appreciate our work and it keeps us busy.”

Doreen and Wendell Calhoun will be among the many vendors set up at the second annual Little Shepherd Arts & Crafts show in Jenkins on May 16 and 17. Our vendors have come to appreciate our requirement that all goods must be handmade. They know that they will be in the company of other vendors who exhibit the highest level of workmanship.

To get to the Little Shepherd Amphitheatre site, take Route 3086 off Route 23/119 at Jenkins and follow the signs. We will also have good food and some live entertainment. For additional information, please call Bessie Shepherd at 633-9123 or Ked Sanders at 832-4122.

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