It’s not that far from being a civil engineer to an artist in marquetry.
It’s all a matter of design. Civil engineers “create, improve and protect the environment in which we live. They plan, design and oversee construction and maintenance of building structures and infrastructure, such as roads, railways, airports, bridges, harbors, dams, irrigation projects, power plants, and water and sewerage systems.”
Dan Scott of Marion has spent 30 years as a professional civil engineer. He worked on the design of the longtime water treatment plant in Chilhowie just recently replaced by a new system and the existing wastewater treatment plant among other projects while employed with the former Dewberry & Davis. He has worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia, at the Department of Health and then the Department of Environmental Quality, for the last 19 years.
The rare art of marquetry – working with wood veneers to create a picture or design by combining hand-cut pieces of different colors, textures or figures – was taught to Scott about the same time he became an engineer. He was fascinated with the artistic style and completed several dozen projects before taking a 15-year break to raise his two daughters. He again took up the art in 2016 and it provides relaxation away from his job.
“My balance to a daytime professional life of plans, specifications and calculations is the woodwork called marquetry,” Scott said. “The basics of marquetry were taught to me by Mr. Patrick Parker of Maryland nearly 30 years ago. A shared love of wood and woodworking inspired a friendship and an 'apprenticeship.'”
“The apprenticeship,” Scott said, “comprised of watching Parker work on a project for a day, asking questions, and then being sent on my way with the words ‘try not to cut yourself, the blood will stain the wood’ and ‘you know the basics, now play with it until you find what works for you.’”
Scott has found his artistic niche with this exacting form of art that befits his engineer’s spirit.
“This is the only thing artistic in my soul,” he said. “Everything else is mathematical and engineering. It’s about expressing and finding something beautiful and bringing it out. Engineering is getting from point A to point B. It’s very peaceful and satisfying just to sit here and create something that someone says, “I like that. I want that on my wall’.”
What Scott does in this marquetry is cut tiny pieces of wood veneer into shapes to create a picture or design. He has done a variety of subjects from Celtic knots to flowers to landscapes, even Wolverine from Marvel Comics.
“Marquetry is a wood work dating back to the 16th century in Europe,” Scott explains. “It is a relatively rare craft to find in the United States. The wood veneers are approximately 1/20th of an inch thick. I utilize well over 125 different varieties of wood in my projects, collected from sources throughout the world over the past 30 years. The veneer pieces are all cut by hand, using a blade or a jeweler’s fret saw.”
“It is an exacting and time intensive art, but I find it very rewarding,” he said. “I can do this for hours. It relaxes me, like somebody else might like to go fishing.”
Scott also makes the frames for his work, mostly from scrap wood locally grown. He likes to contrast the frame with the background or colors in the art. Each piece has a rustic look and the colors come from the wood veneer. Some of the veneer pieces he has are quite rare.
Time spent on each piece depends upon the complexity of the design, anywhere from six to 30 hours.
“When explaining marquetry, I typically use the analogy of my creation of a ‘do it yourself jigsaw puzzle’ created by cutting each change in color or texture from a different piece of wood veneer,” Scott said. “After all of the pieces are cut to an exacting fit, they are glued down to a piece of plywood for strength and then sanded, finish coated and framed.”
One of his fans described what he does as “quilting with wood.”
“This is a hobby that I love and that I have been able to make self sustaining,” he said. “I am willing to consider custom projects, but my main focus is on subjects that speak to me and that will be a joy in creating in wood.”
He has shown and sold his work at the Chilhowie Community Apple Festival, the Heartwood Spring Festival and Grand Opening, and the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon. This year he will be at the Chautauqua Festival in Wytheville starting June 15, the Hungry Mother Festival in July, and the Grayson Highlands Festival in September. You can also see his work April to December at the Appalachian Spirit Gallery in downtown Marion, and displayed at Lola’s at The Lincoln, and the Barter Theatre and the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center in Abingdon. He was recently juried into Round the Mountain (Heartwood).
Scott said he calls his business Artistic Kindling “so that I never take myself too seriously. With that in mind, I like to tell people, 'not only is it pretty, but it burns and floats too.’”
“It has turned into a self-sustaining hobby and gives me immense satisfaction to share my love of wood with anyone who cares to listen.”
Scott said that after 30 years, he recently got his first compliment from his teacher Pat Parker, “who grudgingly grunted his approval and said ‘maybe I didn't waste that day with you after all.’”
Find out more about Scott’s work on his Facebook page, Artistic Kindling.