PUBLISHED: 10:39 AM on Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Les Howard's woodcraft art inspired by his father's memory

Courtesy Photo
  Woodworker Les Howard
Les Howard, who turns local wood into finely crafted objects of functional art, will be the featured artist of the First Friday for October at Juneau Artists Gallery.

Howard will exhibit newly made yellow cedar bowls and place settings consisting of plate, bowl and mug all in matching woods. He will also show popular smaller objects such as pens, pencils, key rings, bottle stoppers made from local Alaskan woods.

"I like to buy functional things, and put wood on them to enhance their appearance," he said.

He began this career as a wood turner after retiring from the State in Information Technology in 1990. He is primarily self-taught using books "mainly as quick reference."

He also credits inspiration to his father who "worked in a window and door factory and always carried the scent of pine on him." That memory seems to "fit in" now to where he is in life. What began as just a novelty idea-creating a wooden pen and pencil set with a wider grip to assist his a late brother who hasd a muscle illness, has grown into a full-time pursuit. Howard has been selling bowls and pen sets at local craft fairs since 1999. He is currently working on a unique "ball in ball" wood Christmas ornament of Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and Red Alder (Alnus rubra Bong.) which lights uphas a flashing red light inside.

He works out of his home, garage and backyard- shop, which are full of the scents of exotic and local woods.

A collection of planks is stacked like "rail road ties" in his garage labeled with unusual names such as: "Bubinga" (Guibourtia spp.) , an African dense dark wood or the unusually beet-colored wood, "Purple Heart" (Peltogyne). In back, there are also stacks drying of "spalted" cottonwood from neighbors downed treestrees in his own yard. "Spalted" means the core wood is laced with black mold, which adds a desirable dark swirl to the wood pattern. These woods are later worked into candleholders, pepper mills, wineglasses and other objects.

"Douglas Maple" (Acer glabnum Torr. Var. Douglasi), he says is his favorite wood to work with. It is the only maple to grow in Southeastnative to Alaska. Some is by the glacier and some grows conveniently by his cabin at Hood Bay, near Angoon. He harvests branches broken by the wind and snow or carefully prunes cuttings from his special trees to make into pens and pencils on his lathe.

Hoonah is the location from where he buyssource for the yellow cedar forin his bowl sets. "I just got an new toy that will facilitate making those", he states. It is called a "hollowing", which cuts the middle of a solid cedar block into a bowl, then moves over to cut another bigger bowl below. "Typically", he said "you cut out the piece and waste all the wood around it. This doesn't waste nearly as much." The initial core cut will become a candleholder base with a brass fitting added to hold a standard candle. The other bowls from the hollowing cut could go on to become a stacking candy dish server. He will show such cedar candleholders as well as holders cut from Coco Bolo, another dark exotic wood.

He enjoys making picture frames from this and mesquite to go with Southwest cowboy themes in the artwork.

Juneau Artists Gallery will be open in October 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, for fall hours.