November 15, 2011
McGraw woodworker donates collection
90-year-old gives pieces of early, rural American life to the McGraw Historical Society
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Howard Henry, 90, of McGraw, sits in the McGraw Historical Society building where he donated his hand-crafted collection of miniature wagons that depict early American life.
McGRAW — Howard Henry started making things from wood in 1991, after he retired from a long career as a man who serviced what he calls “every type of wood- or metal-working machine.”
The McGraw resident made a wooden shoehorn for a friend who could no longer bend over to slip her feet into her slippers. He has made hundreds of things from wood since, many of them replicas of furniture or transportation modes used by Americans over the centuries.
Henry, 90, recently donated his collection of replicas to the McGraw Historical Society.
They are on display in the society’s room attached to the Lamont Memorial Free Library.
Henry said he learned to make things by studying the problem at hand, or the object he was copying, then choosing what kind of wood he needed and going from there.
He said his father, Grove, had skills in the craft as well “but not to the extent I do.”
“When I was growing up, we had to make things — if you couldn’t make it, you had to get along without it,” he said.
Henry said people also helped each other during the Great Depression more than they do now, which is why he never seeks payment for anything he makes from wood. He has made magazine racks for a local nursing home, back scratchers for friends, stools, wheelbarrows, a cedar chest.
His donation to the Historical Society covered about 15 pieces, replicas of transportation and rural life: wagons, an outhouse, a manure spreader, a pair of “bobs” and “lynn wagon” for pulling logs from a forest, a wood-sided covered stagecoach, and a Prairie Schooner covered wagon.
“We’re delighted,” said Village Historian Mary Kimberly. “They will be a nice addition to our local history collection. Children will be interested in how we farmed and lived.”
Henry grew up on a farm on Soshinsky Hill, outside the village, as the youngest of five children, graduating from McGraw High School in 1939. His father had moved to the farm in 1906 after selling his meat market, which was located on the corner of South and Main streets where Malarkey’s Tavern is now.
He worked for GLF, a farm cooperative that merged with two others to form Agway in 1964. He was gone when that happened, having joined Thompson Boat in Cortlandville as a maintenance foreman in 1955.
He worked in that building until 1991 as it became Chris Craft, then ETL Testing Laboratories, which is part of Intertek.
He and his late wife, Doris, had two daughters, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Many family members live in the McGraw area.
Henry’s apartment at the McGraw Senior Housing has several of his wooden items, including a replica on top of his TV set of a hunting cabin that a friend owned in the Adirondacks.
His workshop is at the home of his granddaughter Colleen Rynders and her husband, Jeff. His friend Don Jones takes him over there when he wants to work with wood, and, Henry said, watches over him to make sure he doesn’t cut his fingers.
“I never cut my finger on any machine until 1993, when I caught the tip of one, just a little slice,” he said. “I’ve cut them all since then. I don’t have much feeling in them.”
He studied the index finger of his right hand, which is a bit narrow, as if flesh had been carved away. He chuckled.
“Just plain stupid of me, is all,” he said.
Henry said he prefers working with aspen now, because it chips less than pine and is strong and can be sanded easily. But he has used all kinds of wood in his work.
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