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January 24, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Most people think old fence posts, knobby tree trunks and fallen branches are just scrap wood, but for Bobby Lockhart, owner of Within the Bark, they have artistic potential. Lockhart, a woodworker from Leasburg, takes scrap timber and carves it into lamp stands and candlestick holders.
Although Lockhart appreciates the natural beauty of a tree, he’s more interested in what’s inside: the shape of the tree rings, the rich colors of the heart lumber and the fact that each piece of wood is different.
His creations are never square or structured. He preserves the wood’s natural beauty. “You won’t find one (piece) that looks like another,” Lockhart says, because it depends on the heart wood, or inner wood, of the tree.
Lockhart uses the hand lathe his father bought him in the ’60s to shave away the bark. The wood fits in between two rotating cylinders as he shaves away the outer layers. This reveals the inner wood. These characteristics are created by growths or forks on the outside of the tree. They cause the grain of the wood inside to grow in different directions.
“I never know what it’s going to look like until I’m done,” Lockhart says. The wood’s unpredictable nature makes taking specific requests from customers impossible. The uncertainty is part of what makes this method distinguishable among other woodworks.
When Lockhart first started creating his woodwork, he usually gave them away. After a tree fell through an acquaintance’s house in 2007, he gathered the wood and created a lamp, which she uses in her new home. It was a way to show that he was thinking of her in the terrible situation, he says.
That same year, Lockhart began Within the Bark, which he says is more of a hobby than a business. “I didn’t sell my art until June because I didn’t want to feel that it was something I had to do,” he says. When he did, a longtime friend who displayed art at Artlandish Gallery convinced him the location would be a perfect fit for his type of work: natural, striking and definitely quirky.
Lockhart visited the gallery a few times then decided to display there, mainly because of the group of artists who volunteered there, too.
“He uses the beauty of the elements in the wood to make the piece,” Artlandish Gallery owner Lisa Bartlett says. “Instead of dictating nature, he lets nature dictate him.”
Discovering what’s under the bark gives Lockhart a glimpse of the past. He often receives donated wood from unknown sources, and recently, when he was working with a donated log, his lathe produced sparks. Deep within the log was a porcelain electric insulator with a metal stud that screwed through the tree.
Lockhart thinks the wire dates back to the ’20s or ’30s, when electric wires ran through trees instead of power line poles. Lockhart left the insulator in the wood for a large lamp stand with a bit of historical flare.
Lockhart’s craft is full of surprises and readily available resources. As long as there’s a twig, branch or trunk, there will be something for Lockhart’s to transform.