Tom Hewitt is a collector, perhaps a slightly obsessive one, but then many artists are vulnerable to compulsions.
He has a veritable forest surrounding his house, both alive and dead. Hewitt collects wood like he collects stamps, and his years of avid gathering have resulted in logs, pieces and piles of timber surrounding his house in a wood artist’s version of a candy store.
Hewitt makes vases, Lazy Susans and wine holders, among other things, with various types of wood, some more exotic than others. The majority of his wood comes from old furniture or a particular cabinet-making shop he frequently raids for scraps. Other pieces come from dead trees in his back yard.
One vase is made of purpleheart wood from Africa, but Hewitt also uses tiger maple, mesquite and spalted oak. Hewitt’s works are on display at Down the Street Art Gallery.
Although Hewitt has managed to keep all his fingers through years of working with saws, he says of splinters, “I do get a few.”
Hewitt’s backyard shop is full of wood — it’s a wooden version of Santa’s Workshop. Logs lie in piles in the back of the workshop, to the side of the workshop, and inside a shed next to his shop.
Hewitt has a wood saw that he’s carted around with him for 30 years. He bought it in St. Louis in 1978, before he moved to Los Angeles, accompanied by the saw, and before he lived in Scottsdale or Payson, where the saw also found space in each respective home.
Hewitt has owned some pieces of wood longer than he has owned the saw. “But I’m trying to use it up,” he said.
Hewitt is trim and white-haired, with a calm aura. His spotless home speaks of a detail-oriented nature.
Hewitt finished his undergraduate degree at U of A — University of Alberta, that is, at Edmonton. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University in Indiana — he keeps dual citizenship — and worked analyzing blood and other fluids.
Hewitt’s career required intense dedication to detail, along with a healthy dose of patience, much like his chosen hobby — wood crafting.
An admiration for trees led Hewitt and his wife, Tricia, to design their Payson home so that they cut none down. The decision led to the house’s unique, 26-cornered design.
Out back sits Hewitt’s shop — “Tom’s Wooden Wonders.”
“This is a workshop to die for,” he said. “Whenever I bring people here that work with wood, they don’t want to leave; they want to move in.”
Wood lays on shelves along the walls, on tabletops throughout the room — so many tables that one must gingerly walk in zigzags to avoid walking into one.
Hewitt’s most popular product is the tissue box covers he makes — they retail for $12.50. He says he has made roughly 400.
However, a snazzy new wine bottle holder that defies gravity could upset the tissue box’s No. 1 position. The wooden holder is slanted in such a way that the wine bottle looks as if it’s tottering precariously. Those retail for $7. “I don’t like to make the same thing over and over,” Hewitt said. He constantly tries to master new skills to freshen his hobby.
Next, he will learn how to fill holes in wood with turquoise.
“You always want to do more interesting things,” he said.