Memorializing wood that matters into things that last
By Guest Columnist RONNY JUST, a worker of wood
My German grandfather was sometimes described as stoic and unemotional. For many years I was unable to reconcile that description with my observation of the man’s passion for shaping red cedar – from his farm outside Austin, Texas – into treasured family heirlooms.
Looking back, I’m convinced his emotions were expressed through his craftsmanship. The most precious of these is a large rosary he hand-made in his work shed for my grandmother.
Watching him shape wood into things that have meaning obviously made an impression on me. I have always played around with wood, but a decade ago a limb fell from an ancient red cedar that my Georgia grandmother planted many years earlier outside Waycross, Georgia.
On what would have been her 100th birthday, I took that limb that fell, and fashioned small crosses for the entire family.
A passion was ignited. Later, a section from a stately sycamore – recovered from my mother’s front yard – became a bowl. A red oak downed by an ice storm in Hall County, Georgia was shaped into a bench and donated to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Weekend for Wildlife … and a small piece also became an element of a new doll house for my granddaughter.
As these gifts and donations to non-profits became more frequent, the offers of raw, and rare samples of wood, flowed from friends and perfect strangers into treasured stacks of stories in my workshop.
They include a bald cypress knee from along the Satilla River; a complex-grained slab of a decades-old black walnut from Habersham County, an evergreen that served as a Christmas tree from the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion; the trunk of a red cedar from the edge of the Active Oval at Piedmont Park; Pecan ripped up by its roots in Southwest Georgia by Hurricane Michael; and live oak from the Wormsloe Historic Site near Savannah. And the treasure of treasures: A section of pecan that was planted on the Georgia Capitol grounds around the time of its completion in 1889.
The only declined piece to date has been a large limb from the Marietta Square that was offered on the same afternoon I was driving my wife home from a doctor’s appointment. I love wood … but made the right decision that day.
Laura Fermi has observed that, “trees are silent and monumental witnesses to human restlessness….” The organic link between humans and wood is primordial, if not spiritual. I have seen people weeping over the fall of a special tree that had been witness to the sweep of time.
And I have enjoyed transforming wood that is special or from special places, and the emotions recipients experience when that wood is memorialized into something that is lasting. Woodworking is more fulfilling than my golf game, and about the same cost. I have been humbled to share this hobby with non-profits, co-workers, friends, neighbors, family members, including my mom, and patrons such as community and business leaders, prominent athletes, and others.
I truly believe somewhere between 320 and 400 grit sanding, God reveals thru the grain what his fingertips have been about for the last 100 years. At that moment I also see again my grandfather’s passion hidden under his stoic shell.
Note to readers: Ronny Just is a 34-year Georgia Power employee and part-time seeker of wood that matters.