Just as charms on a bracelet tell a story, beads in the hands of a critically ill child can trace his or her medical experiences.
A red heart means surgery. A glow in the dark bead means an echocardiogram. Dark green represents dialysis. A smiley face tells of the patient’s discharge.
Called beads of courage, these items are given to children enrolled in the nonprofit program as a way to reduce illness-related stress, increase positive coping strategies and give a child something tangible they can point to when telling people about their treatments and recovery.
Children dealing with catastrophic disease, earn so many beads they need a place to store them all.
Helping fill that need is a group of local craftsman.
When a call went out and the Newton County Chapter of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW), the Peach State Wood Turners, responded.
“The request was put out by the national organization,” said member Ed Applewhite. “One of our club members was already making these bowls in his own shop. He brought [the request] to our attention. We jumped on it as something we’d want to do.”
The club of about 30-35, mostly men, has been meeting together on Thursday evenings, and gathering on some Saturdays to work on projects together, learning and supporting one another. When the call went out for bowls to hold the Beads of Courage, the members’ response was nearly instant: of course they would create bowls.
They started working on the bowls in mid February, and will have the 30 done before AAW members gather June 9-12 for its annual symposium, held this year in Atlanta. The Newton County club will present the bowls to the national organization. The boxes will be on display in the AAW’s temporary gallery at the Atlanta Convention Center at America’s Mart during the gathering.
Then the bowls will go to Children’s Health Care of Atlanta hospitals for distribution to the children collecting beads of courage.
Making the boxes
Each bowl is made up of three rings, two wide and one a narrow, accent ring. Flared chunks of wood are glued together to create each ring. Dowels made of contrasting wood are embedded in the accent ring and cut off, creating a design.
Woods used for the bowls include vermillion, yellow and purple heart, zebra, cherry, mahogany, oak and walnut.
Once the rings are glued together, they are put on the lathe and the wood turner uses a chisel to shape and even out the bowl. A lip is cut out into the top circle and a lid, turned from a single piece of wood and topped with a knob embedded with a bead of courage, is made. Like the top, the bottom is turned from a solid piece of walnut, with the edge turning up to create a platform for the rings.
The final product is sanded smooth and lacquered.
“We have some enthusiastic people,” said member Don Russell. “They wanted to do this project for these kids.”
Russell said as far as he knew, the Newton County club has been the only one to respond to the AAW’s request for bowls.
The bowls are not the only project the club donates. Members of the club also make pens to give to military troops. The mechanical parts are purchased and installed into turned pieces of wood.
“We’ve turned a lot of pens,” Applewhite said. “Most of the [troops] use email, but they still like to get them.
“When I’m doing this or turning [pens] for the troops,” he said. “I’m thinking about where it’s going, why it’s being made. I think that’s why this project appealed [to us]. Most of us have grandkids and there but for the grace of God could be our grandkids.”
He said he only wished he could be there when the troops receive a pen, or a child receives the bowl. “I think that’s how the other guys feel,” he said.
Passing skills on
Russell has taught woodturning, woodworking and veneering at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina for the last 12 years. The classes are held for five weeks during the year, and students learn the craft, making things like furniture, toys and parquet chessboards.
The skill level of the club members varies, Russell said. Some go out and teach classes; others are just beginning.
“About 20 years ago, wood turning became the fastest growing hobby in the country when baby boomers started retiring,” Russell said. “It’s still going strong.
“It’s a handcraft that is very inexpensive to get into compared to some other woodworking hobbies,” he said. “Most anyone can do it — children can do it, young adults, people with disabilities. It’s easy to learn. Woodturning is pretty common. Bed posts, table legs, room dividers, Victorian gingerbread are all works that are turned.
“The projects are unlimited,” he said.
Club members’ projects have included inlaid trays, chessboards and wine goblets, as well as the pens and bowls. “If you look at this club, they can make just about anything,” Russell said.
While some of the projects are donated, others are auctioned off to raise money for scholarships awarded to young people interested in learning wood turning.
“We have a policy in this club,” Russell said. “Any time a teenage person shows an interest in the hobby, the club will provide them with a lathe and some tools and try to get them started.”
This year, to raise scholarship money, the club has been working on wooden Christmas ornaments and a wooden tree for display purposes. The ornaments feature parquet figures of trees, crosses and snowmen made of veneer centered within veneered frames. A turned “icicle” hangs down from the bottom, and a top with a hole for a hanger are added.
They are expected to sell for a minimum of $40. The auctions are generally held at the state AAW and the Georgia AAW symposiums.