Her wonderful way with wood

When it comes to creating beauty from a piece of wood, the possibilities are endless for Bessie Bass, 93, of Marion, who has spent more than 80 years perfecting her talent.

Local people might know her best for the hundreds of wooden calendars she has made, using interchangeable numbered days of the week and reminders of special dates.

?I have sold so many,? Bass said, ?but I cannot remember the exact number.?

Her calendars are on walls or businesses as close as Hillsboro and Marion to as far away as Hawaii, Spain and Canada.

Bass hand-painted each day of the week, adding separate blocks for notable days of the month, such as time changes, Groundhog Day and the first day of winter.

?I also made wooden boxes to store the extra pieces,? she said.

Bass said the calendars were the only wood items she ever sold, but they barely scratch the surface of her productive talent.

The other pieces were given away to family and friends as gifts or because she wanted someone to have them.

?I am not even sure why I started selling the calendars,? Bass said. ?I didn?t ever sell anything else.?

Her interest in wood started while she was in eighth grade.

Bass, who was born and raised in Marion County, said she was the middle child among 11 children.

Her father, Jim Conyers, a farmer and carpenter, was probably her inspiration.

?If I had been a man, I would have been a carpenter,? she said.

As it was, Bass chose to try teaching, but later switched to a career in the medical field as a private-duty nurse.

After graduating from Marion High School in the mid-1930s, she taught for two years, but then attended Wesley School of Nursing with her sister, Hazel. She later married Carl, her childhood friend, whose family lived near her parents.

She and her late husband lived on her parents? farm for awhile. But after the flood in the early 1950s, they bought a house across from Marion High School.

?I remember looking out the window in study hall when I attended Marion High School, wondering what the inside of this house was like,? she said.

With so many samples of her work displayed around the house, Bass had no trouble pointing to one of her favorite pieces?a recipe box, secured on a wall with a drawer that opens out for easy filing and retrieving.

?I don?t think there are many recipe boxes made this way,? she said.

Another unusual, but useful, wood carving was her muffin stand. It was three-tiered and able to hold muffins on a ceramic plate embedded in the wood. When not in use, the stand could be folded flat and still enjoyed as a piece of furniture.

Most, if not all, of her wood creations are for decorative purposes, and she pointed out many of the intricate details.

She doesn?t use stencils when designing and painting flowers, vines or faces. She also doesn?t limit her work to wood.

In the basement, she has hundreds of gourds in various shapes and sizes.

?I wait for them to dry out and then I paint them or put other materials on,? she said.

In addition, Bass has made large wooden figurines for just about every occasion. She has brightly colored leprechauns, Easter bunnies, Cupids, scarecrows and Santa Claus carvings, all waiting for the appropriate time of year.

Quilting was another of her hobbies, but Bass said she only made a few of those for family.

?I was also a grand champion at the county fair for my tatting,? she said, pointing to the lace under a vase in her living room.

Bass said her sister taught her how to tat.

?It isn?t that hard to do, but it is hard getting started on it,? she said.

When she first began woodworking more than eight decades ago, Bass said she had few tools of her own. But as the years went by, she collected many table saws, carving tools, coping saws, chisels and more.

Her husband supported her by buying pieces of equipment to help her on different projects.

Bass said she isn?t doing as much with her wood hobby as she used to, and she has given many of her saws and chisels to grandchildren or other relatives interested in carrying on the tradition.

Working with wood, she said, has been something she enjoyed as a young person and throughout her life. Creating with her hands has always given her great satisfaction, she said, and while she has slowed down, she hasn?t quit.

Bass has continually made unique and timeless pieces in what might otherwise be considered old junk wood.

?Someone might look at all this stuff as a bunch of clutter,? she said, ?but I hope my family and friends see the love.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Turnout strong for 50th-year reunion of Hillsboro High School Class of 1960
The Hillsboro High School graduating Class of 1960 gathered Saturday for its...
Read More