A Legacy Of Love... honoring the story of how my husband Sherial came to carve ShadeTree bowls.
You could say Sherial's training and passion for working with wood began on the small tobacco farm in North Carolina where he spent his first decade of life. It's where he learned to 'go with the grain' when chopping sticks of wood for the cook stove; and where he shared the front steps with his father, trying to master the fine art of whittling.
He would've told you that everything in his life enabled him to be do what became a loving endeavor. I believe he was right.
In middle school, woodshop took him beyond whittling. As a teenager in the Navy, his travels to Japan cultivated a deep appreciation for fine craftsmanship. When his father's landscaping business expanded into building, he learned how to frame and trim houses. Even the short time spent as a marine mechanic added important elements, encouraging dexterity and a belief that he could figure out most anything. And of course, decades as owner of a grading and landscaping company furthered his creative side—leading to multiple awards for his landscape designs.
Sherial became more serious about woodworking during his forties. Over time he made a fair amount of furniture and decorative pieces, and finally built his dream workshop to house an ever-growing collection of woodworking tools (most of them, power tools).
In November 2006, at age sixty-seven, Sherial underwent major surgery—the kind that makes you really think about your life. And your future. He realized he needed to reconnect more with his southern roots and leave the frenzy of Tidewater Virginia where he and I had lived for over twenty years. Early in 2007, signs of a building slowdown convinced him to close his business. By late spring, we drove away from Virginia to a new home out in the country, not far from Charleston, SC. There was an inexplicable feeling that it was exactly where we were supposed to be.
There was one thing was missing though: a woodworking shop. But with a recession looming, and not knowing how long it might last, we decided to wait until things improved.
As everyone knows, it turned out to be no run-of-the-mill recession, and a of couple years later—still no workshop. Sherial could have never imagined that NOT having a nice, big, well-appointed workshop was a blessing in disguise.
It was during that time that his youngest son Lyle married a lovely girl, Kate. She wanted me to teach her to make his family's special biscuits—just as my mother-in-law had done. There's no better way into the heart of a southern family than to carry on one of their long-standing traditions, so we decided to give her a wooden 'dough bowl,' like Sherial's brother had given me.
There are moments in life, snippets of time, when life changes course. This, was one of those. Sherial spoke the words that would usher in what he called the best years of his life: "I could make her one."
It was a little bit crazy. All of his power tools were packed away, he didn't have a shop, and, he'd never made a bowl before.
Thankfully, none of that stopped him. Instead, he started reading how to carve with only old-fashioned style hand tools—the kind without a plug at one end. He watched videos of people using them, did a lot of thinking, and a lot of 'figuring it out.'
Before long, he was under some shade trees in the back yard, chopping away at a piece of poplar, using a chunk of wood as a work surface. He'd experiment, walk away, then go back and try something new. He watched more, read more, thought more, learned more. But something else was happening at the same time. Something similar to falling in love.
Nothing he'd ever done before had made him feel this way. There was a deeper connection created by not using power tools. Everything about it made him feel more alive. Even working outside in the quiet of his little place under the trees seemed like it was meant to be. And everyone who knew him could see that something special was happening.
While still working on Kate's bowl, he started another. This time, for no reason than because he needed to. He needed to see what he could create out of his own intuition and imagination, to see if this 'bowl-carving thing' might just be what people mean by finding 'your true calling'.
That bowl sealed the deal and eventually found it's way to Manhattan; the second bowl he made, the second he sold.
Sherial sold his beloved Camaro to make room for a 'shop' in the old three-sided, dirt-floored shed close to where he'd first started chopping. He still did a lot of his work outside, and a lot of his thinking, too—about his next bowl or that sculpture that wandered around in his mind, or how everything did bring him to this place, this doing, and the sharing of it with others. And sometimes, his mind would wander back to those front steps on the farm and how his father always told him that "things have a way of working out for the best."
Kate's Dough Bowl: Made from Poplar, with a sturdy base that's perfect for making the biscuits so dear to Sherial's family.
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