by Bella Erakko
Just as a sapling grows into a tree, wood-loving Kent Brown, the August guest artist at the Alliance Art Gallery, has grown from furniture repair to wood sculptor. Starting in high school some 40 years ago, he entered the “wood world” by helping his step-grandfather with his furniture repair and refinishing business. Realizing he needed a real job after graduation, he nevertheless ended up in situations calling for wood skills, from building prototypes and displays to wood-constructed patterns for tractor engine blocks.
Today he splits his time between helping his 88-year old dad (in his glory when truckin’ on the combine) on the family farm, and indulging in his passion for wood. This love affair ranges from wood-based jewelry to wood sculptures to a sawmill to repurposing family heirlooms.
For example, he explains, “Someone has an old chair or rolling pin from grandma that everyone wants a piece of...” He harvests the wood to make custom-sized rings. “I put the wood and a dye into a vacuum chamber for about 20 hours.” He then uses a lathe to fit the wood over a stainless steel ring, securely wedged and glued into place. He admits, “They’re pretty durable short of setting them on fire. One went through the washing machine and came out okay.”
In addition to heirloom pieces, he has made several wedding band sets. He makes rings of all sizes and wood types, but especially likes making custom pieces, though he cautions that the in-going wood and the final product may look quite different because of the process.
Recently he has branched into sculpture. It began when a woman called. “Her daughter had bought a carved goose; her mother wanted me to make one for her. So I did.” This has launched a whole new exploration of wood as loons, swans, canoes, deer, and fishing lures. He personally loves antique lures, which can range in price to thousands of dollars. Picking up his carving tools, he laughs, “I cannot afford them, so I make them.”