Living

Long Beach man turns out work of wood art

The workshop is a former boat storage building. Now, it holds machinery, tables and wood. Lots of wood. Almost every kind of wood imaginable, the pieces in a variety of sizes, from tiny fragments to boards stored in the rafters. It all has a purpose for Tommy Murphy of Long Beach.

Murphy, "an electrician by trade," has been seeking solace in woodworking since he was a teenager, when he took shop in high school. Perhaps it's in his blood; his grandfather had a sawmill in Pearlington in the 1930s. He's been an electrician for about 32 years, and during much of that time, working with wood has helped him chill out after a long day.

What does he make? Bowls, Christmas ornaments, vases, cake plates, candle stands, pens and even flowers. With an artist's eye, he can look at a piece of wood and imagine its future, completed appearance.

"I don't throw anything away," he said.

If he means that literally, the shop is extremely neat. Even the pieces of unassembled old piano -- yes, a piano -- are hung in their place.

"I used the piano strings to make stripes in a candy dish," he said. "I'll find something to do with the rest of it, too." He uses a related item, part of a piano tuning key, with a lathe.

Aluminum drink cans also add decorative touches. Murphy cuts them in extremely thin strips, then uses the strips to accent such items as the pens.

The woods include Brazilian maple, cherry, cypress, pecan, walnut, tallow, pear, magnolia, black gum, even privy bush and his mother's 50-year-old rose bush. Even pine cones transform into pens; when stripped of its scales, the remaining cone bears a fascinating dark spot pattern.

"I go looking for stuff," Murphy said. "Our neighbors' tree fell down. I got some oak from my brother-in-law's yard. There was a maple lying in the yard. I got a piece out of my mother's pear tree that worms had gotten into. I got some red cypress from Log Town."

The more exotic wood, such as Brazilian maple, might come from homebuilding or cabinetry scraps.

Worms can harm a tree, but their resulting damage can be a beautiful thing.

"Worms can make beautiful holes," Murphy said, showing one piece with scattered holes and random small trails. "It just adds character."

So do the unexpected nails driven years ago into a tree, leaving dark impressions, almost like a reverse X-ray.

Working with wood isn't always predictable.

"Sometimes Murphy's Law comes in," he said.

Various pieces have different challenge levels.

"To me, bowls are kind of boring," he confessed with a smile. "I really like making urns and Christmas ornaments."

The three-dimensional ornaments are perhaps the most challenging, as they are fitted together to form the ornament. "I gave all my family Christmas ornaments," he said. In fact, family members are most often the recipients of his woodwork. He gave his sister his first bowl many years ago, also as a Christmas present.

Murphy still does woodworking for the fun of it, although he has sold a few pieces. Williams Gallery in Gulfpot carries some of his work.

"It's just interesting, to see the stuff you can do," he said.

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