‘Whittling’ away

Retiree opens booth at Homespun to sell works

  • West Knox County retiree Steve Brown can take a gnarled piece of wood and turn it into a bowl or other of his masterpieces. His works are on sale at The Shoppes at Homespun in Farragut. - Tammy Cheek

  • Lines created by a wood fungus create unique designs in Steve Brown’s works. He keeps his pieces as low-gloss and natural as possible to allow the distinctive qualities to shine through. - Tammy Cheek

  • Steve Brown uses a lathe to turn wood pieces into home decors — or even smoking pipes. - Tammy Cheek

For Karns retiree Steve Brown, wood-turning simply was a hobby he enjoyed to pass time.

Then his daughter, Amanda Martin of Farragut, urged him to sell his pieces at The Shoppes at Homespun in Village Green shopping center, where he now has a booth featuring his one-of-a-kind works.

“All of these pieces have a story to tell,” Brown said.

Booth F12 holds an array of his pieces, from vases and planter stand to bowls and candleholders.

“I sort of always enjoyed working with wood,” Brown said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I used to just whittle things.”

In the late 1990s, when he became more serious with the hobby, he started making pipes.

“I just wanted to see what I could do, so I researched it a little bit to see what the pipes were made out of — what kind of wood they used,” Brown said. “I thought, too, I might want to smoke a pipe myself.”

He did, in fact, smoke a pipe for a year — but then “I got over it,” he said and laughed.

During the 1990s, Brown remembered pipe smoking had become a bit of a fad.

“You had a lot of young kids — college students — that were buying these pipes,” he said. “(The fad) didn’t last long.”

Brown’s research led him to discover the virtues of briar wood from the Mediterranean.

“There’s none made here,” he added. “Back in World War II, there were a lot of pipe smokers, but the briar wood could not be imported.”

So, pipe makers improvised, using rhododendron and laurel woods, of which the roots were extremely dense and hard.

Brown experiments with different woods to make his pieces.

“A lot of woods I find are around Catoosa (a wildlife management area near Crossville), ” Brown said. “I would go up there in spring … I would find stumps and knots left behind.

“I want all the trash stuff (the lumber companies) don’t use — all the knots and the burroughs,” he added.

Brown then moved on to other pieces — pipe holders, candleholders, lamps — and other woods.

His pieces show a tree’s history with tree rings, beetle tracks and fungus lines, creating beautiful natural designs.

Before retiring in 2018, Brown worked for TVA’s fisheries division for seven years and in government contracts for 15 years.

“One of my biggest enjoyments is being able to get out and find woods,” he said. “I don’t want to just get a block of wood. I like to find unusual pieces that are weathered and washed up on the lake.”

Brown usually does not know what he is going to make with the wood he finds until he studies it for a bit “to see what it’s telling me (to make),” he said.

As his hobby grew, so did the collection of Brown’s works. Even though he gave some pieces away, he still filled up his home.

“My daughter, Amanda, my wife (Susan), and sister (Mary Charles Salomone) had been pushing me for years to get out and sell (the pieces),” he said. “I was hesitant — I love doing it, not selling it — but it’s to the point the house is filling up.

“The biggest inspiration for me to sell was Amanda,” Brown added. “She knew people here (at Homespun).”

Looking around his booth, Brown replied, “This (place) is perfect.”

Martin helps her father sell his works and is looking at creating a website.

The Shoppes at Homespun, 11523 Kingston Pike as well as 1410 Sevierville Road in Maryville, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 6 p.m., Sunday.

To find out more about Brown’s pieces that are available, call 865-591-2248.