Local artist Roger Bennett’s fascination with woodworking has led to a lifetime of creativity and innovation.
Bennett most recently beat over 100 artists to win first place at the South Pittsburg National Cornbread Festival. His love of making things from wood doesn’t stem from ribbons, it blossomed in his seventh grade due to his junior high shop class under Melvin Duke.
“My senior year, I only had English and shop,” Bennett recalls.
Woodworking was just a hobby for much of Bennett’s life, but never too far away from his careers in painting, construction and contracting.
Over the last two years, Bennett returned to woodworking, crafting and showing as often as he can. It’s 20-30 shows a year. On his weekends off, he sets up at the Community Market.
Bennett is a self-taught artist. All of his creations are handmade using the natural color and detail of the wood. He doesn’t use stain or paint to get the colors he needs. It’s an all natural process.
In addition to fretwork, which is an interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background using a fine jigsaw or scroll saw, Bennett turns bowls and makes intarsia mosaics. The mosaics are a woodworking technique that uses varied shapes, sizes, and species of wood fitted together to create a mosaic-like picture with an illusion of depth. He also makes custom cutting boards.
“I cut each piece out individually, sand and shape it and make it fit the next piece to fit the next piece,” he said.
Bennett purposely introduces spalting, which is the discoloration due to fungi, to his stock to further enhance the grain and figure of the wood.
“It takes months to years to get the wood to do this. I set the wood outside, pile leaves on it and let the mushrooms grow on it. The rain soaks the dirt and mushroom fungus into it. You flip it ever so often,” Bennett said.
“I let nature lead its way. I start turning something, and whatever I feel that day, it becomes,” Bennett added.
He tries to get young people interested in woodworking whenever he can. He sets up a kid’s booth at Old Timers Day with pumpkins and ghosts for youth to paint.
“I wished they would bring woodworking and home economics back to the classroom and teach kids how to make things. I have fallen back on these skills so many times over my life to support my family. It’s something that you can always fall back on,” he said.
Bennett’s craft won numerous awards at shows and was recently featured on “Tennessee Crossroads.” He is a member of the Tennessee Valley Woodworkers Association, the Tennessee Craft Association and the Foothill Craft Association.
Find out more about Bennett’s art at www.clearbranchwoodworks.com.
John has been with the Manchester Times since May 2011. He covers Lifestyles in addition to handling education reporting and general news assignments.John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. John is a 1994 graduate of Tullahoma High School, a graduate of Motlow State Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.