J.G. 'Jack' Lewis
Date of Birth: 01/14/51
I rely on the natural curves of nature to design a piece. The wood tells me what it wants to be.
My first recollection of having anything to do with wood and woodworking tools was when, at around seven or eight-yrs-old, I picked up my father's handsaw which he had left on the workbench in the 'cellar' and proceeded to cut about halfway through the top of that bench. I guess, at that age and considering his reaction, I was a little too old to be considered 'cute.'
My mother's father was a carpenter, her brother (my uncle) was a carpenter and I was a carpenter's son. There were woodworking tools and supplies always around the house and especially in the basement (or 'the cellar' as we called it). And when the weather prevented me from climbing trees, those days were spent 'down the cellar' experimenting.
At age 13 my father hired me to work with him during the summer as he was a carpentry teacher in the Vocational Department of Gloucester High School and had the summers off during which he contracted his own jobs. At first, he didn't trust me with even a hammer but handed me a length of wood to knock down an old ceiling, from below, with loose insulation above, and about 90 degrees in the shade.
Since those summers, in my teens, throughout a few years of college, four years in the U.S. Navy and multiple and varied jobs I have always fallen back on the experience my father gave me. I owned and operated a small residential construction company in the '80s and '90s until years of bending and lifting resulted in multiple back problems which prevented me from performing any heavy tasks. Leading up to the type of work I do now, I dabbled in furniture restoration which allowed me to work at home, at my own pace and to rest my back when necessary.
While setting up my shop, I became exposed to new and varied tools and methods of treating pieces from some species of which I had never heard of prior to this time. From Mahogany to Walnut, from Padauk to Cocobolo, from Kiaat to Wild Cherry Burl, we* gradually became immersed in the intricacies of the grain and colors of wood.
The inlays I do start with some inspiration. The beauty of the State of Florida is a huge inspiration. I can look up while at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and see what appear to be Frigate birds or Albatross with their forked tails soaring far overhead, riding the wind currents without one beat of their wings. What a peaceful and stress-free life they appear to have!
Or, to watch the Dolphin in their persistent but apparently purposeful coursing up and down the coast. Giving us such a brief view of their graceful forms reminds me that intelligence can come in simple packages.
It is as much in the subtle lines of the perfect bowl as in the weeping limbs of a Willow. It is as much in the flight path of a Swallow-Tail as in the fingers of a newborn baby.
I no longer use handsaws that much although I still have my father's in case I get the urge, but the curiosity is still there. I have no doubt I will never achieve nor begin to perfect the simple lines and curves of nature, but I intend to keep trying and shaping this curious material we call 'Wood'.
*I say 'we' because without the help and encouragement of my precious wife Deborah there would be no creativity, no pieces at all that we both cherish. Deb is the inspiration behind all of my work, my pleasure, my love and no truer form in Nature. Thank you, Baby Girl. - JGL