Wood Turning Artistry of Havenite Tim Thomas
By James Coulter

Artist Tim Thomas combines functionality with beauty in his art, letting each piece of wood reveal its history and future form.

After a long hard day at work, there’s nothing that local artist Tim Thomas loves more than to retreat to his art studio behind his Lake Elbert residence and unwind through his wood turning.

What art he ends up creating depends on whatever piece of wood he manages to pull from his wood pile. Sometimes it’s bright orange mango wood. Other times it’s light-pink rose wood.

What piece of wood he decides to use doesn’t matter to him. Whatever he chooses becomes the canvas through which his art manifests itself. And as soon as he starts whittling away at the bark, what remains afterwards is always a surprise to him.

For a wood turner such as himself, stripping away the bark is like unwrapping the gift paper to a present. You never quite know what you’re going to reveal underneath — it’s either going to be a pleasant surprise or a slight disappointment.

More often than not, no matter how carefully he chips away at the wood, he ends up with something that falls apart on him or doesn’t quite come out right, and it ends ups getting chucked straight into the burn pile.

Once in a while, he’ll come across a magnificent piece of wood whose rich history reveals itself to him through its grain, and ends up manifesting itself through refinement and polish.

The very grain of the wood is like a detailed timeline of that tree’s life. Every harsh wind it ever bent toward, every storm or hurricane it weathered, or every drought it survived, shows up within the finer details.

“The surprises that always lie beneath the bark — it is ultimately the one thing that drives me,” he says. “Once you get into it with your scrapper or whatever piece of equipment or tool that you’re using, you just never know what Mother Nature is going to give you beneath that bark, to see those years of history come alive, so to speak.”

For the past three years, he has practiced his wood turning. His process has been one of trial and error. Through it all, he has created countless pieces of wooden art ranging from bowls to wooden pens.

Simply being able to sit down and try his hands at his art, regardless of whether he ends up with a masterpiece or another piece of glorified firewood, has been his passion as an artist. For only when he can try and fail can he learn to do better.

“Practice makes perfect,” Thomas says. “You hear all those clichés all your life, but literally, if you don’t practice your art, you do not get better.”

Born in Tennessee, Thomas was raised within a rural lifestyle of cattle and tobacco. His grandfather was a man who would often spend his free time whittling away at wood within his workshop.

Even then, growing up as a farm boy, Thomas was raised to focus more on practicality rather than aesthetics. Such a focus drove him to attend college and major within industrial engineering.

“Everything you did at home at home was functional,” he says. “It wasn’t meant to be art. Either you were building a table to eat off of, or you were building a side table to serve as a function, not so much as an art piece.”

About nine years ago, he moved down to the Lake Elbert area of Winter Haven with his partner, Harold Stafford. The two of them would open their own antique shop, Southern Gentleman, on Dundee Rd. While his significant other focused on the marketing side of the store, Thomas wanted to find a way to contribute his own unique way.

About three years ago, he attended a wood turning class in Orlando. Being able to shape wood in his image reminded him of his grandfather’s wood shop growing up, and he instantly became hooked.

Many of his art pieces are sold at their shop. Having been together for 10 years, and married for five years, his partner, Stafford, loves the creativity behind his partner’s artwork, and remains supportive of him by selling it within their shop.

Being able to own and run a business together, with Thomas making the art and Stafford selling it at their shop, has truly allowed them to work well together.

“Ever since he has been doing the wood turning, we have been creative with the products making it his own niche in our business, but we all have something unique to offer,” he says. “It is something that we do together. For shows and in our shop, it has become a part of who we are.”

Since then, Thomas has taken several other classes and seminars to help perfect his art. He even made friends with several artists and learned the secrets to their craft.

One such artist in Clearwater creates bowls for a charity, Bowls For Good, part of Feeding America in Tampa Bay. Thomas would often spend countless weekends with that artist to learn from him and perfect his own art.

As he has learned from others, Thomas hopes to one day perfect his craft to the point where he can share it with others and teach them what he knows.

For many of his repeat customers, they love being able to buy something that’s truly for themselves, something that no one else can easily obtain.

Cathy Hall first discovered Thomas and his wood turning through many vintage shows and art events over the years. As someone who loves to scout for creative art, she appreciates being able to find and buy merchandise that’s one-of-a-kind.

“A lot of times when you go to different events, you see the same thing,” she says. “People like to buy things that people make with their hands. I love that. I’d much rather have a handmade piece than something that I bought at a store that everybody can have. His pieces are unique, so you know when you get them, this is the only bowl [like it].”

Hall has since purchased several art pieces of Thomas’s and has displayed them within her house, and the more unique items she can collect, the better it will all accentuate her home, whether it’s a centerpiece to a coffee table or something to place on her mantle.

“I think that when you find something that you really love, that somebody makes, you have to buy more, you can never just buy one of them,” she says. “That is how it is with Tim’s pieces. You know what goes in behind them, and what he does, what work he does, what pride he puts in his pieces, and I can see it in every bowl that he makes, he works hard at what he loves.”

As for Thomas, nothing brings him more joy than creating something unique for someone else, something they can truly call their own and ultimately pass down to their loved ones.

“When you’re able to get something for an individual that meant something in their family’s yard, I will be able to get them something… back that becomes a family heirloom, it’s priceless,” he says.

Thomas sells his wood-turned art at vendor events such as Winter Haven’s 2nd and 4th Saturday markets, Haven Holiday Market in November, and the 863 Local FiArt Fest in April. In addition, his wooden wares can be found in his store, Southern Gentlemen, located at off of Dundee Rd. at 201 Burns Lane in Winter Haven.