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  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Travis of Fort Wayne works from his woodshop on a platter, using his lathe. Travis will be at the Northeast Indiana Woodworking Artisan Fair on Saturday, where he will present a workshop on wood turning.

  • Travis keeps his woodworking tools sharp at his shop. He’s been working with wood since he was a child and hopes to pass his knowledge along at Saturday’s fair.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Travis, of Fort Wayne, works at his lathe on a platter in his woodshop. Travis will be at the Northeast Indiana Woodworking Artisian Fair, where he will present a workshop on wood turning.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Travis, of Fort Wayne, works at his lathe on a platter in his woodshop. Travis will be at the Northeast Indiana Woodworking Artisian Fair, where he will present a workshop on wood turning.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Gary Travis, of Fort Wayne, in his woodshop, will be at the Northeast Indiana Woodworking Artisian Fair, where he will present a workshop on wood turning.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 2:30 am

Carving out their own niche

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

Gary Travis remembers going as a child to visit his uncle, Ralph Travis, a master carpenter who lived in Chicago.

"He’d always have a little project set up for me,"  the Fort Wayne man recalls. "He taught me how to hammer a nail, use a hand planer –  no power tools back then. He’s the one who really got me interested in it." 

For Travis, "it" is woodworking, and now 64, he has never lost interest in the craft – particularly wood turning, which he compares to using a potter’s wheel, only horizontally on a lathe and using wood instead of clay as the raw material.

On Saturday, he’ll be introducing the craft at a first-time event for Fort Wayne geared to people of any skill level who might share his enthusiasm for working with wood.

The event, the Northeastern Indiana Woodworking Artisan Fair, aims to up the profile of an often-unrecognized set of skills that can turn a piece of tree into beautiful and useful objects ranging from the most delicate Christmas tree ornament to a massive armoire, says co-organizer Joe DePrisco, who late last year took over ownership of OakTree Supplies at 14110 Plank St. in Fort Wayne just outside Huntertown.

 "It’s actually quite popular in this area," he says of woodworking. "There are some incredibly talented people, and we’re trying to highlight some of the artisans in the hobby."

DePrisco says area wood artisans come at their interest from a variety of avenues. They include amateur and professional home restorers who find the need to duplicate hard-to-find millwork or repair floors or staircases and people who hand-craft furniture or objects for home decor, either as hobbyists or as a business. Then there are artists interested in exploring wood’s aesthetic qualities.

"Woodworking is one of the largest hobbies in the United States, and it’s also one of the oldest," says DePrisco, pointing out that if those hearty Hoosier pioneers "didn’t make stuff they needed" by hand out of available materials, such as downed trees, "they didn’t have it."

After a long period in the 20th century when home workshops were ubiquitous and most homeowners had rudimentary carpentry experience, the craft began a downward slide when many public schools began to stop teaching shop classes, DePrisco says.

Today only a couple of area schools – Carroll High School and Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Career Academy at Anthis among them – still teach wood shop, he says.

But those classes, along with Internet how-to videos, are rekindling interest among young people, as are the Makers Movement and the popularity of artisan-made and redone vintage items.

"It’s interesting because there’s a group of young people coming into the hobby," says DePrisco, who bought OakTree Supplies in November and runs it with the help of his son, Chris. He says the shop is the only full-service woodcraft store in about 100 miles.

The artisan fair will include an on-site sawmill demonstration by Dave Schreiber of Bent Tree Custom Sawing in Churubusco, who will show how a log is turned into usable wood, and several free workshops – "Introduction to Wood Turning," "Turning Set-Up and Safety," "Wood Turning Tricks and Techniques" and "Scroll Saw Basics."

Also on tap: tool and product demonstrations by factory representatives, including new technology that will stop a power saw before a user incurs injury. About a dozen artisans will be displaying and showing their wares.

Travis, retired from a career in graphic design who taught at IPFW, specializes in making bowls. They can be made with basic technique, but they also can be extremely varied and utilize more complex skills such as wood burning and pierced work for embellishment. 

He also enjoys making platters because of their challenging large size.

Turning, Travis says, is an ever-evolving hobby. He says a local turner, the late Dr. Bob Bahr, served as a mentor to him for many years.

"He taught me everything I know. He was very patient with me. He was a great man," Travis says.

Newcomers to the craft can expect to find a very generous group of local people, men and women, who enjoy sharing ideas and teaching skills, Travis says. There also are local groups of turners and woodworkers who can help newcomers get access to tools, he says, and opportunities to show work through community fairs, festivals and museums.  

"It’s just that there’s no end to it – the only thing that limits it is your imagination," he says of woodworking. "I love it sometimes (when) the wood tells you what to do, when you start out one way and then the wood takes you in a different direction.

"There’s definitely art involved."

rsalter@jg.net