There is a quiet humility and dignity in the work of retired USAF Lt. Col. Dale Reed.
After serving his country for 28 years and three months in the Air Force, recording more than 500 flight hours in Vietnam during the height of the war, Reed could slow down and enjoy life.
And in many respects he is doing just that, enjoying life, and although the work — or as he likes to call it the hobby that occupies his time now — may not be faced paced, it requires all the precision and skill he once employed as a forward air controller and pilot.
“I’m a background person,” Reed said. “I don’t like the spotlight and I can’t sit in the house all day.
“Several years ago, my wife and I saw a piece of woodwork that intrigued me and I thought I might like to try to do that,” he recalled. “I haven’t been able to stop ever since I made my first piece.”
Reed is an Intarsia craftsman.
Intarsia involves cutting wood into small shapes and pieces, many only centimeters in size and fitting them together in a pattern, thereby creating a dimensional image or picture out of the wood.
The three-quarter-inch thick wood Reed prefers to use is carefully cut using a band saw or a scroll saw.
“After I cut everything I sand the pieces a number of times,” Reed explained. “By shallowing it out during sanding or shimming it, it gives the piece depth.
“I dry fit everything before I glue the pieces on the backing wood board,” he added. Then I apply a gel that I wipe on to bring out the grain and color in the wood and finally I finish the pieces with three coats of polyurethane.”
Reed uses as many as 29 different types of woods from Africa, Asia and across the United States to complete some of his pieces.
The art form dates back to the 15th century in Rome and today is done by individuals of all ages throughout the world.
“It is a really easy hobby to do, but I don’t know if I would have said that in the beginning,” Reed said. “The first piece I ever made was of two dolphins.
“It only had seven pieces of wood in it, but it liked to kill me to do,” he said with a smile. “I think it took me over two weeks to figure it out.”
Since beginning the hobby more than 20 years ago, Reed has crafted hundreds of pieces of artwork for others, keeping a few very special pieces for himself.
“I do donate some of my pieces to fundraisers, especially for cancer and for my children and grandchildren’s schools,” Reed said. “I’ve done a lot of pieces for the school in Green Ridge because my daughter teaches there and some of my grandchildren went to school there.
“They replaced the bleachers a few years back at the school and my granddaughter came up with the idea I ought to try to make something with some of the wood from that,” he added. “It started as one large wall plaque and from there I made 24 smaller versions to give individuals at the school as gifts.”
Reed donated three items to the Green Ridge Pink Night for Breast Cancer Awareness. With the three items, the school raised more than $1,600 for breast cancer research.
“No two pieces that I make are ever alike because the wood that I use is always different,” Reed said. “There is a place in Kansas City where I go and order my wood from.
“I like going there because I can pick out what I like,” he added. “Some of the woods are common to this area like the cedar and pine and popular, but many of them are more exotic and come from overseas.”
Reed does not paint the wood he uses, instead the colors such as the reds, purples and yellows come from the wood and the grain pattern found in each piece.
One of the most time consuming scenes Reed has made is an image of the Last Supper of Christ. The 32-inch by 40-inch piece is made of more than 800 individual pieces of wood.
“Each of the 12 disciples and Jesus are made from a different type of wood,” Reed explained. “Their faces and hands are made of Spanish cedar but their robes are each different as are all the parts of the room.
“There are more than 20 different kinds of wood in the picture,” he went on to say. “It took about three months to do that one but it is a favorite of mine.”
Many of Reed’s works have a religious theme or are based in nature featuring animals, including realistic portrayals but sometimes with a whimsical nature.
His work also features images from the military including a recent work depicting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Reed gives many of his pieces away as gifts and at Christmas his children, grandchildren, relatives and friends receive wooden ornaments, boxes and toys he has made.
“I try to not do duplicate pieces but sometimes I might if it is for someone special,” Reed commented. “I don’t do it to brag or show off and I won’t ever sell any of my work for personal profit.
“I do it because it gives me something to do to pass the time, especially now that my wife is no longer with me,” he added.
Reed’s wife, Colleen Reed, died in 2005 after battling ovarian cancer.
“I have always thought that a person needs to have something to do each day to occupy their hands and their mind and get them off the couch,” Reed said. “My next Intarsia project is what gives me that purpose.
“I don’t think about the work I have done yesterday,” he added. “I’m always thinking about what is next.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.