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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Fallen Trees Destined for a Higher Use in Abingdon

Craftsmen like Nick Aloisio pick up whatever good pieces of wood that tree cutters are willing to give them and turn them into usable items.  (Photo by David Crigger|Bristol Herald Courier)
Craftsmen like Nick Aloisio pick up whatever good pieces of wood that tree cutters are willing to give them and turn them into usable items. (Photo by David Crigger|Bristol Herald Courier)

By DEBRA McCOWN | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | October 15, 2008

*** This story was published Oct. 3, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

ABINGDON, Va. ? When a tree falls in a town known for its art, sometimes it's destined for a higher use than firewood.

If it gets into the hands of Nick Aloisio ? as did part of the tree that dropped a huge limb on the Washington County News building this summer ? it may be turned into bowls.

"I wish it were glamorous, but I showed up every day and bugged the tree cutters," he said of how he saved some of Abingdon's choice trees from the stove. "Almost everything I make ... comes from Abingdon ... and it seems like everything almost comes from Valley Street or Main Street."

Last year, Aloisio said his "big find" was wood from two fallen trees at the Sinking Spring Cemetery. That wood ? more than 200 years old and from the area near the monument to the unknown Confederate dead ? was beautiful, with streaks left all through it by ambrosia beetles.

Bowls, he said, are not simply cut out and made from the round cut from a tree; instead, to make a bowl that will not break easily, he must saw the trunk down the middle and cut out pieces sideways, with the rim of the bowl near the center of the tree and the bottom near the bark.

That means they have to be large hardwood trees, at least 14 inches in diameter, and to be usable they must be freshly cut. Even then, not all trees are created equal.

While he started turning bowls eight years ago, he's had more time in the last three years to devote to his craft, which involves using tools to carve the wood as it spins on a lathe.

When his wife went back to work after the birth of their second child, they decided he would stay home with the kids. And though he still did some part-time electrical work to supplement the family income, the time at home gave him an opportunity to pursue a passion: working with wood.

With hand-turned wooden bowls, which sell for about $120 apiece for a 12-inch bowl, he's turned that passion into what he called "a flexible side job" that still allows him to chaperone field trips and meet the bus every day after school.

"My kids still are first," Aloisio said.

This year, he said, sales have really taken off. With a good supply of wood and both children in school, he's started selling at local farmers markets, with amazing results. He said they've sold so fast during tourist season at the Abingdon Farmers Market this year he could barely keep up with demand.

"Amazingly enough, even at the peak of gas prices over the summer, I still sold well," he said of the market and the Virginia Highlands Festival, where he spent more than a week demonstrating his craft to visitors.

Lemont Dobson, deputy director of William King Regional Arts Center, said Aloisio has "done a few things up here with us, and we've always had really positive responses and people generally enjoy talking to him and watching him work."

"He tries to use a lot of local wood ... he has an emphasis on the local community, so when people are buying something from him, they have not just bought a bowl but a sense of place as well," Dobson continued. "I think he does fantastic work."

Aloisio, who also makes pepper mills and wine bottle stoppers, said he's not an artist, but a craftsman and his work is meant to be functional, not just left on a shelf.

"I would prefer them to be used," he said of the items he makes. "In fact, they look much nicer over the years if they are used."

A! ExtraTopics: Art, Crafts, Family