WORDS/ PAULA VESS

FINDING THE SONG IN SCRAPS OF WOOD

Like the way a composer weaves together words and music, building a song one note at a time, Al Rogers fits together bits and pieces of wood to create unique pendants and earrings. His wife Mary Ann chose the perfect name for his collection of creations — Woodsong Jewelry.

The composer works with rhythm, tempo and the melody he hears inside his mind. Al uses scraps of wood and a few tools to bring to life the song he sees in the wood. “It’s quite unscientific,” he says. “I just like the contrasting colors and grains of the wood.”

It may be unscientific, but it’s certainly beautiful. Some of his pendants depict colorful landscape scenes while others are more whimsical. Earrings and pendants can feature a very simple design or one that seems impossible to have been created out of nothing more than small pieces of wood. Some pieces appear to be painted, but that appearance is deceiving. All the color comes from the natural colors and features of the wood.

“South American hardwoods are generally the more colorful,” says Al. Picking up pieces from his workbench, he names common woods such as maple, cherry and walnut. As he moves around his workshop, he picks up some more exotic woods, calling out names such as Padauk and Purple Heart. He adds “I don’t know the names of all of the woods I use.” Al is less concerned about knowing facts about the woods he uses than finding the songs in them. The name of a wood doesn’t matter to him; what matters is how the pieces will fit together to bring his design to life.

Friends, family and others who have heard of Al’s hobby help keep him supplied in a variety of woods. A local company even lets him rummage through its wood scrap pile. He doesn’t have a favorite wood to work with but says, “Free is always good.”

A pair of earrings with a simple design may take only an hour for him to create, but more intricate pieces can take as much as four hours or more. One piece of jewelry could contain as many as 20 separate pieces of wood, depending on the design.

Those designs usually start out as a drawing. Al draws inspiration for them from the world around him. “Every piece is unique, sometimes even when it’s not supposed to be,” he says.

Al’s hobby got its start about 10 years ago, “when I realized I had a teenage daughter,” he says, and he needed an activity they could do together. They didn’t start out making jewelry with wood, but for Al it was a natural progression once she got interested in other things. He notes, “My father was into woodworking and I would help him. I’ve always enjoyed working with wood.” He has tried his hand at making small pieces of furniture and other projects, but making jewelry was the activity that captured his imagination.

Making jewelry out of wood doesn’t seem to fit Al at first. He’s a mechanical engineer by trade, but looking at some of the intricate, obviously painstaking work Al has put into his jewelry, the distance between the two seems to lessen. The skills and eye needed for the precision of an engineer and the creativity of an artist could be two sides of the same coin. Al says, “It’s all a creative process, whether it’s sheet metal or wood.”