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Mullane saw passion for wood develop into art

Mullane saw passion for wood develop into art

September 26, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

By KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

His round face glows, like a gung-ho child standing awestruck before a towering Christmas tree overflowing with pristinely wrapped gifts.

For what does the 54-year-old wearing a bushy gray beard beam? His child's proud accomplishments at school? A family milestone? Job recognition?

No, Tom Mullane is giddy about wood. Planks of Brazilian cherry or maple, and how he will use his scroll saw on them in a corner of his two-car garage.

"Once you take this raw piece of inanimate wood and then you say to yourself, 'I'm going to make a jewelry box or picture frame or a rocking chair for my daughter,' you've given it purpose and you've given yourself purpose," Mullane says. "You've created something that hopefully will have history, hopefully have meaning to the person you make it for."

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Picking up a scroll saw for the first time in a decade earlier this year, the Bronx, N.Y., native fell in love with cutting patterns out of thin slices of wood.

Now a Hagerstown resident - during his lifetime Mullane has worked in photography, been a Civil War re-enactor and fishing lure tier, to give a short list - his affair with the scroll saw has grown into Old Griz Scroll Art, a fledgling business creating visages and nature scenes in wood with precision cuts.

Nicknamed The Bear as a younger man, Mullane thinks the Old Griz moniker sounds good given the mileage on his frame.

This weekend, his work will be on display at the Smithsburg Steam Engine and Craft Show at the Smithsburg Fire Hall grounds. He will peddle three dozen portraits of 12 or 15 subjects ranging from Christ wearing a wreath of thorns to deer to a flock of geese to actors from "Gods and Generals," plus assorted small Christmas decorations.

Setting his work apart are a devout attention to detail and a creativity in presentation that make his finished products pop out of their generally eight-by-10 frames.

Exhibit A of his commitment to detail: The handsomely framed portrait of a sullen Robert Duvall as Gen. Robert E. Lee in the upcoming motion picture "Gods and Generals."

Roughly 85 different blade changes are needed to craft the image, smallest being a .0024-inch saw blade. Mullane feels the finer the detail, the more character is brought out.

The other touch is more personal. Most scroll saw images will be set against a black background of stiffened felt or foam batting. For the Duvall portrait and other actors from the Civil War film partially shot in Washington County - Jeff Daniels, Ted Turner and Brian Mallon - Mullane set their wooden visages against photos of a Confederate cemetery, flag or troops marching in the distance.

"It just gave a little more life to some of these pieces," he says. "They are so much more alive then if it was just wood or a plain black matting. I think it adds character."

He hopes to one day present the foursome with their portraits.

"Wood is gorgeous, OK? There's a beauty found in wood that's not found anywhere else, and if you know how to develop it. ... It's like a darkroom. You give a photographer a mediocre negative and if he's good, he can come out of the darkroom with one of the most beautiful photos you've ever seen," he says. "Wood is the same. You can take a piece of mediocre wood, use the best finishing techniques and come out with one of the most beautiful pieces of wood."

As much fun as his hobby is, it is just that and nothing more. If Mullane can earn enough to pay for his equipment, he'll be happy.

Just don't count on his passion becoming a full-time endeavor. For that he has graphics work with wife Mary's Web design business. Completing his big winter project - a clock - will be more than enough.

"I don't want to do this full-time because then it becomes work and it's not fun," the Old Griz says. "I have fun doing it, and when I stop having fun doing it I won't do it anymore."

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