I had seen around the house a transparent resin cube with an unfurled orange rose magically carved inside. A cute knick-knack, I thought. I have encountered such sculptures in souvenir shops, and wondered how they were done, by what computer-guided techniques and machines. Mom saw me admiring the embedded rose, and announced proudly, “My daddy made that. When he was a shop teacher at Brockbank junior high.” I asked her how in the world he had done it. “He said it was easy. He used a rotary tool to drill up into the cube, making the petals and leaves, then brushed dye into the empty spaces. We had dozens of these in our house when I was a girl. This is the only one left.” I admire the rose-in-the-cube every day now. What I had judged cheap kitsch now was transformed into family treasure, blooming on my filing cabinet. Tokens like these are to be cherished and admired and saved.
A number of years ago, Tooele City, where I have worked for 28 years, began to host craft workshops for the locals. A color flyer showed the projects, often holiday themed, and we could order them online. On the appointed evening, we gathered to collect our crafts, mostly preassembled, to paint and decorate them. Several times I took one of my children for a crafting date—Hyrum made a small sledge. I have made snowmen, scare crows, pumpkins, pilgrims, and Easter bunnies. Often more than 50 people would come—and I was always the only man there! Covid-19 shut the program down temporarily, but then it resumed, with the public picking up their projects from city hall, and taking them home to finish. This Christmas season, I ordered a winter village scene (pictured above), which my daughter Laura and I painted during her short trip from Houston. Mom ordered a wood block nativity set (pictured below). These crafts have been an important activity for me, for the chance to socialize with nice people, and to exercise what little artistic inclination I have—not to mention having fun holiday decorations to exhibit on the front porch or on the dining room table. I appreciate my town for providing this enriching quality-of-life activity, and for finding a way around a pandemic to keep the program going.
Steven and I pulled the black garbage bags off the high closet shelf. Each bag held a section of the Christmas tree. Boxes of ornaments and lights followed. My brother Steven was visiting for the week from North Carolina, visiting his beloved, elderly parents. We spread and fluffed the wire branches, wound bright tinsel ropes, strung strings of white lights, and hung red baubles and ornaments. Many of the ornaments were homemade, some decades ago in our New Jersey childhood home. Ornaments made from the lids of frozen orange juice cans, punched with nails in patterns, and painted by little children. Steven was two years old when I left home for a university 2,200 miles away. How does an adult brother have a meaningful relationship with a distant two-year-old in the 1980s when long-distance calls cost as much as mortgage payments? He doesn’t. But I am in my late 50s now, and he in his early 40s, and the ages no longer matter. We are brothers, sons of common parents, and we are friends. Steve laughed as he hung a particular ancient ornament, a humble thing belonging only on our family tree. We turned the lights on with pleasure, and stood back and looked at the Christmas tree with pleasure. And Mom’s and Dad’s faces lit up with love and smiles to see their little boy all grown up into the best kind of man.
Ready for the day, Mom sits in her bedroom rocking chair working on her latest needlepoint, waiting for Dad to get up, then listening to him talk and talk when he does get up. His concerns about the family. His memories of his childhood, his ministry, his career as an international corporate lawyer. His worries about each member of the family. She listens and works the needle and listens. Her needle carries the yarn up through the square and diagonally down into the next square, a hundred thousand times. Mom’s completed needlepoints hang framed on many walls in the house, and include large florals, aboriginal geometric designs, fall leaves, rustic Brazilian skylines, and, my favorite, Noah’s ark and the world’s animals gathering two by two. Mom taught me to needlepoint when our family lived in Brazil—I was nine years old. My first (and only) needlepoint stitched a red cat on a yellow background. Two colors. Nothing like the complicated color patterns of a pair of Mallard ducks on a pond, or a sunset over Salvador, or women carrying pots on their heads. Mom needlepoints as she watches NCIS and PBS and Netflix, and as she waits for Dad to wake up from his night reading to tell her everything he has on his mind. Three needlepoints lay finished on the dining room table, and I drove Mom to a rundown wood-paneled dry cleaners to have the needlepoints stretched straight and blocked, ready for framing. “How do you think that young woman learned the skill of stretching and blocking needlepoint?” I asked Mom. She had no idea, but was glad to have found her. In two weeks, we’ll pick them up and deliver them to be framed. I hope she never stops doing needlepoint.
Enjoy these other needlepoints by my mother.
And three more finished, ready to be stretched, straightened, blocked, and framed.
My grandmother Dorothy made thousands of homemade greeting cards from pressed leaves and flowers. Encyclopedias stacked against the walls of her craft room were crammed full of drying leaves and petals. Decades ago, she taught me. And I have taught my children. Hannah has just produced her first cards, inspired by her great-grandmother.
The process is simple: glue pressed leaves to wax paper, cover with tissue, apply more diluted white glue. When dry, place the cards one at a time in a paper bag and iron to set the wax. Then cut and send. I provide more detailed instructions in the chapter Shirley and Lucille in my memoir Rabbit Lane.
Here are some photos of the process. Give it a try yourself!
Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.
My children and I worked for months (and in the case of the featured lamps, years) to be ready for the Tooele Arts Festival, a gathering of more dozens of artists and crafters from around the American west, held June 14-16. I purchased a booth space to sell the family wares. This post highlights several wood lamps I made with my sons John, Caleb, and Hyrum. Displaying our art for three days was an intense and rewarding social experience as we interacted with many hundreds of people, not pushing for sales, but just being personable. We sold three lamps, five rag rugs crocheted by my mother, eight wood bird-beak back scratchers carved by Caleb, and two dozen papier mache floral jars made with my daughter Hannah and my sons, along with 40 copies of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. Making these lamps with my sons has been a meaningful father-son experience for me, and hopefully gave them a sense of creativity, beauty, and business. You can see our other lamps on the Woodcraft page of this blog.
Burl wood in Sedona red, by Caleb.
Burl wood in Provincial brown, by Caleb. (Sold $49.)
Cottonwood with larval etchings, by Hyrum.
Root stump, by Hyrum.
Forked branch, by Hyrum.
Slender branch, by Hyrum.
“Anchor” by Hyrum. (Sold $49.)
“Little Guy” by John.
Hyrum’s first lamp from 2014.
“Old Timer” by Dad (me). This one is on my night stand. (Made in 1993,)
“Stone” by Hyrum.
“Ripples” by Hyrum. (Sold $29.)
Wood Lamp Timponogos by Owen Nelson Baker, Jr.
In the late 1950s, when my mother was my dad’s girlfriend, the two of them hiked to the peak of Mt. Timponogos in Utah. (Nelson and Lucille have been married for 54 years.) The 20-mile hike ends with optional slide down a steep, half-mile-long glacier. (I made the mistake of sliding down this glacier 60 years after they did. I slid so violently and fast, hitting dozens of rocks and holes on the way, that I thought I was going to die. My backside was black-and-blue for months!)
Owen Nelson Baker, Jr., my father, returned from that trip with a large piece of twisted root-wood on his shoulder. He sandblasted it clean and smooth, drilled it, wired it, stained it, mounted it, and switched on the light of this gorgeous wood lamp, which I have named Timponogos. The heavy iron base he hack-sawed off of an antique bird cage. The root-wood still contains a sizable stone around which the roots grew.
The antique oak table on which Timponogos rests was made by my father’s grandfather, also Nelson Baker, who was a machinist and mine foreman for the Prince gold mind in Pioche, Nevada.
Notice the solid brace construction.
I have decorated the Timponogos table top with antique tools made and used long ago by great-grandpa Nelson.
My father’s beautiful lamp, which I have admired all of my life, is the inspiration behind Baker Brothers Lamps, an enterprise in which I join my three younger sons–John, Caleb, and Hyrum–to make beautiful wood lamps that we sell to fund our attendance at the National Boy Scout Jamboree, and for their future college expenses. (Sorry to disappoint, but Timponogos is not for sale.)
Dad and the Baker Brothers on 9/11/2011
John, Dad, and Caleb coming home tired from the 2013 National Jamboree
We continue to enjoy making beautiful wood lamps together, the pictures and stories of which I will continue to post on this blog and offer for sale. Here are links to some of the lamps we have made thus so far. We hope you like them.