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‘Storm Bowls’ Crafted From Destroyed Trees: Devastation Into Beauty

Published: October 20, 2018 at 08:00 am

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It’s all about who you know and how many trees fall.

The spring storm that tore through the region on May 15 left few residences untouched or undamaged by falling trees and limbs, Walnut Tree Hill Road homeowner Mary Fellows among them. She did not want the destruction of old sugar maples in her yard “to be for naught; they were my favorite trees, and it made me sad,” she said.

A recent Facebook post with pictures of beautiful, hand-turned wooden bowls hinted that she had found a way to preserve some of the trees.

Her mid-September Facebook post read “The first piece from all my downed trees, [insert a frowny face] everyone is getting cutting boards for Christmas!”

Responses included comments such as, “Leave it to you to turn your devastation to beauty!” and, “You always have such wonderful vision Mary. Repurposing God’s gifts,” and, “Out of disaster came something beautiful.”

Ms Fellows knew just the right person to make her downed wood into something better.

“I thought of my friend Mike as helping to save them,” she said. Also a Newtown resident and local woodworking artist, Mike Agius has been making bowls and other items, such as cutting boards, for 15 years.

The sugar maples were about 150 years old, and they “hung on as long as they could until they gave way, and Mike came and got some beautiful knots and made something wonderful from them,” said Ms Fellows.

Mr Agius said, “Mary had major tree damage. She asked if I could find suitable pieces for cutting boards, bowls, all of the above.” He went to her house and “rummaged” before tree crews removed the fallen wood.

“I grabbed a few pieces; I made one bowl that was a nice burl [a knotty growth on a tree], and I have more wood that I am letting season before I do something with it.” Seasoning wood releases excess moisture in the cell walls of a newly cut piece of wood. Properly seasoned wood, which requires patience, prevents the finished product from warping or cracking. The burl wood “is pretty stable,” and he was able to use it before the rest seasoned, he said.

How did he get started in his craft? He saw it on TV.

“I saw Norm Abrams from the television show This Old House — I thought, I could do that.” Through trips to the library to learn what he could about turning out the bowls, and “trial and error,” he learned how to make the pieces from wood.

“I do this as a hobby,” he said. Mr Agius is often at many town events, craft fairs, and festivals. His artwork is a familiar sight.

“Each piece of wood tells me what it wants to do, " he said, adding that most of his work “is not utilitarian at all, just art… the wood could have holes, or a tree may have been infested with beetles. It’s amazing what you see under the bark when you start turning it.”

In March 2017, Mr Agius said, “My workshop burned down around 10 at night,” which he rebuilt as a two-car garage, “with one side as a workshop.”

“I have never cut down a tree for wood,” he said. He mentioned people around town who have wood they want turned into something. And, “I go to the recycling center and look for unusual pieces there.”

His wood lathe operates “with different gauges and scrapers — it spins, and you rough out on a band saw first — it looks like wheel of cheese, then use the lathe and go from there,” he said. “You work the wood and see what you do. I don’t have much of plan, I just go for it.”

The late State Representative and Walnut Tree Hill resident Julia Wasserman “bought three or four pieces. I was excited she liked them,” Mr Agius said.

Some of Mr Agius’s work is in the Roxbury General store on display. Through that display, Mr Agius became connected to a famous artist’s grandson, Sandy Rower. Sandy Rower, grandson of artist Alexander Calder, has a house in Roxbury and in Manhattan, Mr Agius said.

“Someone who knows Sandy Rower got in touch with me, and I did a newel post for [Mr Rower’s] staircase in Gramercy Park in Manhattan. It’s 5½ feet tall, black walnut. I delivered it there. That was cool,” he said. “And right there in [Gramercy Park] in the middle is one of Alexander Calder’s mobiles. That’s my claim to fame.” (See calder.org).

So far as his local fame, “Mike is really talented, and it was a nice way to save the trees,” Ms Fellows said. “I didn’t have the heart to burn the wood.”

 

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