Scroll sawing in sublime serenity

May 20, 2021

If you take a stroll from the Settlers Park office towards town, enjoying the glorious gardens and the tranquility, you will probably pass an open garage where a dapper man in a white dust coat works quietly away in equal serenity.  And if you are a local, you may well find that same dapper man dressed smartly, sans the dustcoat, manning a stall at the various craft markets run in our malls during the year.  Who is this man, you may wonder, and does he really make all the wonderful woodwork wares on display by hand? The level of intricacy in terms of the curves and patterns in each piece is truly remarkable.  Anyone can see that the man behind it all is both an artist and a master craftsman.

Godfrey Howes is a scroll saw artist extraordinaire who spends every possible moment planning, producing and promoting his remarkable creations.  His wife, Meryl attests to this saying that she is both grateful and proud of Godfrey and the inordinate amount of time, effort and creativity he puts into his work/hobby.  

Two bulging photo albums speak to a depth and range in skill, from compound cutting to intarsias to schwibbogen, each one with a story.

But first, a little more about scroll sawing.  A scroll saw is a small electric or pedal-operated saw used to cut intricate curves in wood, metal, or other materials. The fineness of its blade allows it to cut more delicately than a power jigsaw, and more easily than a hand coping saw or hand-held fretsaw.

A significant feature is that the scroll saw’s blade can be removed and placed through a pre-drilled starting hole, allowing interior cutouts to be made without an entry slot. 

Another feature is a small yet powerful light on a flexible arm that illuminates the work area and a dust blower to keep the work area clear while working. Table tilting enables angled cuts to be made easily and with precision.  There is also variable speed support allowing for even finer control over cuts. The fineness in both width and tooth count of a scroll’s blade permits much more intricate curves. Godfrey, on average, goes through 10 blades a month.  

It all began for Godfrey in the Wilderness area where his friend, Rob had a scroll saw.  Intrigued he bought his first one 20 years ago.  Rob gave him “about three lessons and said push off and get on with it,” says Godfrey who did just that.  The intent, from the start, was to enjoy the scroll saw as a hobby. However, it soon became apparent that the hobby “needed to pay for itself” and that “the creations needed new homes”.  This is what led to the markets where Godfrey says you meet the most interesting people and receive all sorts of orders and commissions.  When asked which piece, out of the thousands he has created, has been of particular importance to him, Godfrey shows a photo of a rectangular keepsake box. The lid has a unique and highly intricate pattern which he recreated from a photo of a bride’s veil.  It is a touching gift that will surely be cherished and passed down the family line while also presenting a challenge in terms of replicating the exquisite pattern.  Another line he produces regularly is a series of crucifixes, each one about a centimetre thick with well rounded edges and glowing patina; each one fitting comfortably in the palm of the hand.  These are called Comfort Crosses and are sent to a group of ladies in Port Elizabeth who provide care parcels to Oncology patients.  The parcels include items such as beanies, mittens and ginger biscuits to combat feeling cold and nauseous.  The crosses, besides being a religious support, also provide patients with “something to hold onto”.   When asked what he most enjoys, Godfrey points to his lounge cottage wall where several of his pieces are framed.  Some of these pieces have more than a thousand cuts and the pictures range from mills to leopards to vikings.

Godfrey’s work can be found worldwide with pieces on display or in use as far afield as Alaska and the United Kingdom. 

The range includes toys, serviette rings, trophies, jewelry boxes, framed pictures, décor items and clocks.  Godfrey purchases and installs the clock face and mechanism, assembling everything in his workshop. Glue and dowels are used – never nails or screws.  

One particular clock that jumps off the album page stands shoulder high and is a breathtakingly patterned mini grandfather clock made in maple.  Wood, for the most part, is sourced locally from two suppliers, one on the Garden Route and another in the Amatola district being firm favourites.  Of all the available woods, Godfrey particularly enjoys working with yellowwood saying that it cuts nicely, trims well and is a medium to hard work allowing for a steady workflow.  Of course, it is also very easy on the eye!

Educated at Dale College in King William’s Town where he took both woodwork and art as subjects, Godfrey literally has wood and electricity running through his veins.  His father, brother and son are all electricians as is Godfrey while his uncle and grandfather were carpenters.  But there is more to this man than a singular hobby in an astoundingly neat workshop.  Godfrey served as a councillor in King William’s Town for 27 years, wearing the mayoral chains of office for three terms and later, taking a seat as an Alderman.  

For seventeen years, Godfrey served as the Director of the East London/King William’s Town Technical College.  He also held the Chair of the Border Blood Transfusion Service for 23 years and served as the national chair for six years. A founder member of the King William’s Town Lions Club, Godfrey has also been recognized by Rotary International having been awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship for his contribution to blood transfusion and education. 

If anyone deserves to spend his time indulging in an all-consuming hobby that “takes nothing out of the grocery money” yet brings joy to so many people, especially to his loving wife, four proud children, nine doting grandchildren and four adoring great grandchildren, it is Settlers Park resident, artist, master craftsman and servant to the community, Godfrey Howes. 

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