July 7, 2009
C’ville woodworker gives life to nature scenes
His work using an Italian style of inlaying wood is displayed at Lime Hollow nature center
CORTLANDVILLE — At age 7, Charlie Dellow created a Santa Claus, sled and reindeer out of wood scraps from a silo — and he hasn’t stopped woodworking since.
Dellow grew up in Preble, raised a family in McGraw and is partially retired from Cortland Valley Dairy Services, a dairy supply business which he has owned since 1972.
Dellow’s woodshop, located behind his business, is full of wood scraps and projects that are in various stages of completion.
An oak toy chest awaits a child’s name, which Dellow will carve into it, and a cow in small fragments that have been perfectly cut to fit one another needs to be glued together and mounted.
The cow is made from a particular style of woodworking: Intarsia, which originated in Italy and involves an artist cutting, shaping and forming small pieces of wood together to create a scene.
Dellow chooses scenes from a catalog and then orders the plans, which he follows exactly to cut the wood as it should be inlaid into the scene.
The first depiction Dellow made about five years ago is a 556-piece nature scene currently on loan to the visitor center at Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture.
Lime Hollow Director Glenn Reisweber said the forest scene, which depicts a racoon draped over a branch and a squirrel with an acorn as well as a deer and a bird, is a perfect fit for the center.
“It is a Northeast type scene. People just stop and gaze at it ... and we are delighted to display it,” Reisweber said.
With woodworking, Dellow says he is always looking for the next challenge.
Dellow is already eyeing an 800-piece African Adventure scene, which consists of 26 different animals that he expects would take about a month to complete if he put in eight-hour days.
“If it’s a challenge, I try to build it,” Dellow said.
Dellow said the precision required in Intarsia sets it apart from the other forms of woodworking he has done. If he does not cut even one piece exactly along the line directed in the plans, it will not fit smoothly into the piece next to it.
“The challenge is making it look more real,” Dellow said as he looked at a newly completed figure of an Amish boy and girl holding hands.
“His arm is rounded over. If I didn’t round it as much, it wouldn’t look so real,” Dellow said.
Dellow said when he works on a piece, he keeps an “eye” for the way he thinks it should look. He will choose the wood to use accordingly.
“I don’t paint, I use the natural wood and the first coat is an oil base which brings out the natural color,” Dellow said.
For the Amish couple, Dellow used maple for the bonnet on the girl, beech for the skin, and butternut for the dress.
Dellow also takes into consideration the texture of the wood, sometimes using the middle of a plank if it has a configuration that would fit well into the scenery. A knot in the wood or a darker pattern could create an effect of a cloud in the sky, for example.
When the piece is completed, Dellow has a sense of satisfaction from having finished the task with precision and accuracy.
If he sees something that he would like to correct after the final product is complete then, Dellow said, “that’s when I build another one.”
“I see things I could do differently to make it look more realistic,” Dellow said.
Dellow used to make furniture, creating tables and making cabinets and kitchens for his family. But the work became too physically demanding as he got older, and now he does less of it.
Dellow has even made instruments, creating three dulcimers, a stringed instrument that is plucked and strummed.
He said that as much as he loves woodworking he wants to keep it a hobby and not expand it into a business so he does not advertise his work.
“I like to do it, it’s fun to do. If I have to do it (it would lose its fun) ... and it would be tough to make a living out of doing this,” Dellow said.
Reisweber said even though Dellow does not describe himself as a professional, his work looks professional.
“His work is just sensational,” Reisweber said.
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