Rural Missouri - December 2010 - (Page 23)

S by Heather Berry ometimes being artistic runs in the family. That seems to be the case for Kevin Begley, who says his grandmothers, aunt and father were artistic — so it was only natural for him to be, too. He started oil painting in high school and by the time he was a high school art teacher in Madison, Kevin had become known for his landscapes. Later, he turned to other mediums, including wood. “It wasn’t until our first son turned two years old that I tried to make anything out of wood,” says Kevin. His earliest effort was a rocking horse, which still stands in the den today. With the rocking horse complete, Kevin thought, “What now?” One glance at an iconic Christmas image inspired him to begin a hobby he’s carried on for the past 25 years. “It was a photo of a Santa with a simple triangle body,” says Kevin. “The arms and legs were separate pieces that were tied on with jute. It was primitive, simple and I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that.’” So he made one, tied a bell in the Santa’s hands and hung him on the classroom door in Madison where he taught grades K-12. When the staff saw Kevin’s Claus, orders started pouring in. “I was making them left and right,” he says. In 2004, Kevin retired after 31 years in education as both a teacher and principal. He and his wife, Susan, moved from Waverly to Columbia where they built their dream home. And one of the first things Kevin decided to make in his basement woodshop was another Claus. “I decided we needed a big Santa to stand on the fireplace hearth during the holidays,” he said, “So I made one that’s 48 inches tall. “The Santas I make are different, so I’ve pretty much stuck with the same pattern over the years,” says the Boone Electric Cooperative member. While he’s made a few wooden Easter bunnies, spooky Halloween witches and patriotic Uncle Sam’s, Kevin realizes his woodworker’s niche is the jolly red man from the North Pole. “I realized a long time ago that I’m a Santa person, through and through,” says Kevin, gazing at a line of Claus figures in various states of completion standing on the counter in his shop. “I still believe in Santa,” says Kevin, “That’s the only thing I make now.” So what makes Kevin’s creations different than other Santas? Probably the number of pieces • it takes to put them together. Columbia “Whether they’re 18 inches or 4 feet tall, they all have 38 pieces to them,” says the woodworker. Taking a 2-by-6 or 2-by-8 piece of pine, Kevin traces his pattern onto the boards, then cuts them out with a band saw. His Santas have smooth, rounded edges and for that, he uses a hand-held rotary grinder. This tool allows him to round the pieces of wood that eventually become the hat, moustache and beard. Kevin makes various versions of his Santas. While his pattern stays the same, it’s the hats, beards and moustaches that give each of his pieces a truly unique look. “To make a hat or beard curve, I have to cut the piece out and then cut that piece of wood into many small sections,” Kevin explains. “Then I drill holes in each piece, and with dowel rods and wood filler, put the hat or beard back together in a way that gives it a sense of movement.” Using the grinder, he chips away at round, wooden balls until they’re the perfect ending to Santa’s red cap. The same effect is given to Santa’s bushy eyebrows, and the hat and coat “fur.” Many pieces of sandpaper and hundreds of paint strokes later, Kevin puts each numbered piece of wood back together. He then gives the Santa a good antiquing with wood stain, seals the paint and adds finishing touches such as a lantern, cane or scarf. If you ask Kevin what shade of red he paints his Santas, he’s hard-pressed for an answer. Kevin Begley says he only makes about 25 Santas each year. Here, Kevin displays a unique shelf-sitter Santa. Just Claus “Well, I never use just one red,” he says, pointing to the figures standing in his workshop. “This group probably has a shade of red that was created from four shades of red mixed together.” While he loves bringing his Santas to life, it does take a great deal of time. “The entire process takes about 15 hours for one Santa,” says Kevin, who says he creates only 25 Santas each year. While you won’t find his work in any local stores or craft shows, Kevin says his Santas sell pretty well on their own. “My work sells by word-of-mouth. People who come to buy one as a gift usually leave with one for themselves, too,” he says. Kevin’s whimsical, wooden collectibles range in price from $65 for a shelf-sitter Claus to $125 for a 48-inch-tall Santa. “I thought about starting a website, but then I realized this is a hobby that I love and I don’t want it to become a job,” says Kevin. The craftsman says he becomes attached to every Santa he makes, creating them as if they were staying in his family. He feels mass-producing his Santas would take away from their charm, so he has no plans to expand his hobby to larger production. Future plans do include trying to see how small he can make his 38-piece Santas to meet the needs of small-scale collectors. “There’s just something magical about Santa,” says Kevin, “And I enjoy sharing that through my woodwork.” You may write to Kevin at 3407 Red Bay Creek Rd., Columbia, MO 65203 or send an e-mail to him at Former teacher and principal Kevin Begley brings joy to collectors with his whimsical, wooden Santas Each of Kevin’s wooden Santas is different than the next, making each unique for people who want to add something distinct to their Claus collections. DECEMBER 2010 23

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2010

Rural Missouri - December 2010
Lester Dent
The Owl Innkeepers
Mail Bag
Out of the Way Eats
Best of Rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Just Claus
Too Good to Be True?
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - December 2010