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MEMBER NEWS: Glen Paulk, Holly Lake Ranch, TX - East Texas wood artists carve out time for craft (02

Wednesday, February 3, 2016   (0 Comments)
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TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH: East Texas wood artists carve out time for craft (02/02/2016)

Glen Paulk shows off the inscription and makers mark on the bottom of one of his turnings Jan. 6, 2016, at his home in Holly Lake Ranch. Andrew D. Brosig/Tyler Morning Telegraph
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HOLLY LAKE RANCH - Wood turner Glen Paulk, 88, doesn’t overanalyze his art; he just encourages it.

On any given afternoon, he can be found at his lathe, uncovering new beauty buried deep in decades-old wood.

The spinning blade of his machine stirs up a blizzard of wood flakes, leaving the air inside the modest workshop heavy with sawdust and satisfaction.

“If you’re averse to dirt, you don’t need to be a wood turner,” he said with a grin, whisking residue off his clothing. “The older and rattier the wood is, the better it comes out. … I love a rotten piece of wood.”

Paulk is not alone in this appreciation for nature’s discards.

A few streets away, friend and neighbor Elizabeth “Betty” Snyder, 84, is also discovering the artistic wonders of a departed tree.

She is not a wood turner, but a whittler - devoting countless hours to her craft.

In her careful hands, old tree branches become clever, whimsical hideouts for elves. Random chunks of wood find new lives as jolly old St. Nick, crusty cowboys and nativity characters.

She is quick to dodge praise for inventiveness.

“The wood will tell you what to do,” she said. “You just have to follow it.”


The crafty pals are among a likely vanishing pool of creative thinkers who see beauty beneath the bark.

They share friendship and kinship in a craft that seems largely overlooked in today’s time-crunched society.

There’s nothing especially hasty about woodworking, as single creations can take days and sometimes weeks to complete.

For people who enjoy the pastime, however, it’s no problem when time drags.

“This is the hub of my sanity,” Paulk said with a wink from his woodshop.

The artisan said he finds inspiration in Southwest Indian pottery. He appreciates the simplicity, shape, history and earthy hues.

In some ways, this passion is almost accidental.

His late wife gifted him a lathe after retirement, on the likely assumption it would give the former U.S. Air Force pilot and business executive something with which to tinker in event of boredom.

It was a calculated guess that took root.

“This is something I grew into,” he said. “When I start out with a piece of wood, I have no idea what it will be. … I let the wood dictate the share, type of finish and size. It’s a hobby and I left it that way because I don’t want the pressure” of operating as a business.

He works with a variety of types, from black cherry and cottonwood to black walnut and dogwood, creating something stunning from pretty much nothing.

Cracks or holes in the wood become opportunities for adornment, such as small bits of turquoise and silver. Mother Nature provides the rest.

“You find a piece, look at it, put it on the lathe and out comes something,” he said. “The beauty is there, all I do is uncover it.”

Humble words, it seems, for an award-winning artisan whose work is displayed at shows and galleries in Colorado and Texas.

In spite of his successes, things don’t always go according to plan.

“You have to learn early on, not to be disappointed,” he said. “If it splits, you really have to give up on it; otherwise, you’re chasing a ghost.”


Ms. Snyder’s art seems a little more forgiving in the overall technique, but not in form.

Her finished creations are finely detailed with a hint of humor and mischief.

A former assistant professor, this California native relies on a small collection of well-used tools to create her Norwegian-inspired designs.

Her hands are the power source.

“Woodcarving is an old art,” she said. “When you carve, what you’re doing, essentially, is creating shadows.”

Ms. Snyder became interested in whittling years ago, after her sister suggested they take a basket-making class.

She chose woodcarving instead and never looked back, mastering the craft as both a creator and, later, as a specialty instructor.

At her Holly Lake Ranch home, a back porch overlooking a small private lake is her studio; songbirds provide background music.

The serenity appears to fuel creativity.

Over the years, she’s turned out literally hundreds of custom pieces, from wall hangings to walking canes.

Each creation seems to have its own unique personality and spin on tradition, such as outfitting the beloved Jolly Old Elf in checked overalls.

Gifts to friends and family tend to include elements of surprise, such as hidden characters, tiny signs or messages.

Like leaves on a tree, no two pieces are identical, but the results are the same.

“When I’m working, I’m happy,” she said.


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