In The Beginning...
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.
Looking back now, he'd tell you that everything in his life has enabled him to be doing this thing he loves so much.
He's probably 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, some decorative pieces, and built a dream of a workshop to house his 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 now-frenzied pace of Tidewater Virginia where he and his wife, Nancy, had lived for over twenty years. Early in 2007, signs of a building industry slowdown convinced him to close his business, and by late spring, the two drove away from Virginia to a new home out in the country, not far from Charleston, SC. They had the inexplicable feeling that it was exactly where they 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, they decided to wait before building one again.
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 named, Kate, who wanted to learn to make the family's special biscuits—just as Nancy had with her own mother-in-law. There's no better way into the heart of a southern family than to carry on one of their long-standing traditions, so Sherial and Nancy decided to give her a wooden 'dough bowl,' like Sherial's brother had given Nancy.
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 says are 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 about 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. The wood wasn't seasoned (dry) which meant learning how to dry it slowly, so that maybe, the bowl wouldn't warp or crack. 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. He felt connected to what he was doing on a very different level than when he'd made things with power tools. There was a deeper connection and everything about it made him feel alive. Even working outside in the quiet of his little place under the trees seemed like it was meant to be. Anyone who knew him could see that something special was taking place.
While still working on Kate's bowl, he started another. This time, for no other reason than because he needed to. He needed to see what he could create with his own intuition and imagination. He wanted to see if this 'bowl-carving thing' might just be what people meant when they spoke of finding their true calling.
All of that was many of bowls ago.
Sherial sold his beloved Camaro to make room for a 'shop' in the old three-sided, dirt-floored shed next to where he'd first started chopping. He still does a lot of his work outside, and a lot of his thinking, too—about his next bowl or that sculpture that wanders around in his mind, or how everything has brought him to this place and this doing and the sharing of it with others. And sometimes, he thinks 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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