This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shopping at Sasquatchwoods

The other day when I was passing by J. Howard Enterprises, the "Open" sign was lighted, and because I had no pressing other things to do, I stopped in. You might not recognize the name as the sign on the store says

The store, which sells fine wood art, is located on Merritt Street just behind the closed Chrysler dealership. The building, according to the owner, John Howard, dates from the 1920s and had once been a grocery store and a radiator shop. There is no garage behind the garage doors you see below. On the side not visible below you can see that old windows have been blocked up.

Since Rensselaer provides a limited market for the specialized product of wood carving, the owner gets a fair amount of his sales online. In fact, you can get a much better idea of what he is selling from the website than you get in this post.

Much of the woodwork that is created here is used as part of clocks. The price depends largely on how much time is needed to create the woodwork, For example, the clocks to the right in the picture below are incredibly ornate and require many, many hours to create and as a result, they are rather expensive. In addition to selling clocks, Mr Howard said that he also repairs old clocks. (I have several nice old clocks that no longer work--maybe I should take them in.)
The handcrafted Christmas ornaments have been popular gift items in the past, but in the last couple of years sales have dropped. When economic times get bad, as they have been lately, decorative items take a hit. The sign out in front of the store said that items were 25% off, so this may be a good time to buy some Christmas gifts for next year.
This model ship was made by a craftsman in Paar. He makes about one a year and puts a lot of time into each one. The ship and the display case will cost you $2000, which may seem like a lot, but given the many hours needed to create it, the price is probably rather low. There are at least two other model ships in the store. I could not find them on the website.
The place is not laid out as a normal store with a big showroom. Rather it is a series of small rooms in which the work space and the display space are intermixed, and it makes for a really interesting shopping experience. In the room off the small entrance is a grand piano, which is covered with stuff as the picture below shows. Behind the display case with the clocks in the picture below is one of garage doors visible in the first picture.
A woodworking shop should heat with wood, right? This one does in a stove made from a 55-gallon drum. Also in the room with this stove and the grand piano is a barber chair.
The back room contains a variety of woodworking equipment and wood. I asked Mr Howard if he used any local woods, and he said he does, but the problem with using local woods is that wood has to be completely dry before he can work with it, and the surest way to dry it is in a kiln. If the wood is not properly dried, it will warp and shrink as it does dry, and that will ruin the art work. Hence, he gets most of his wood from a dealer in Arizona who sells a wide variety of kiln-dried wood.

There are several different kinds of woodcraft on display, and I have forgotten the name of one of them. Many of the pictures are made by taking a thin slice of wood, cutting out sections to form a silhouette, and then mounting that silhouette on another piece of wood. This process takes many hours and is done with a scroll saw. The blade is very thin and lasts less than an hour before it must be replaced. When doing this work, two pages of wood are used, so two identical pieces can be completed at once.
Below is a piece that is partially finished with the template attached. I think they were removing everything beneath the pink. This was a commercial template, but they can also create their own.

John Howard graduated from Rensselaer Central High School in the mid 1970s. He worked in auto repair and mechanics for quite a few years and then spent a number of years traveling the United States on a motorcycle, mostly camping out all over the U.S. He has been at Sasquatch Woods for about ten years.

The store is a very interesting place to visit. It has some wonderful items, and it is a lot of fun to admire the craftsmanship. (Since I have been writing this blog, I have noticed several local or area people doing excellent craft-work--for example, knives and baskets. I am confident I will be finding more this year.)

An interesting tidbit I learned from talking to him: at one time there was a brick factory where Antcliff Subdivision is now. It made most of the paving bricks that are on the streets on the court house square than that lie under the asphalt on some other Rensselaer streets. The pond at Antcliff was the mine for the clay used in the bricks.

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