Bob Benedict – Pen Turning, Wood Dust, and Topographical Maps

Bob Benedict is a man of many talents and the imagination to see art in grains of wood dust.

His idea to paint topographical maps – one of every state in the U.S. plus Puerto Rico – got its start from a pen turning class that Bob participates in at his Glazier Commons home at Chelsea Retirement Community.  Pen turning involves rolling small blocks of wood between two larger sanding blocks to create appropriately sized cylinders to make pens.  Each pen can take several weeks of turning by each participant.  “It is a therapeutic exercise giving one’s shoulders, arms, and hands exercise rather than doing it the easy way with a belt sander,” explains Bob.

After finishing a couple of pens, Bob noticed that the resulting wood dust got thrown away.  Bob thought about that wood dust and wondered if there could be a use for it.  “I remembered from woodworking days that sawdust could be mixed with glue to make a filler for holes or cracks in wooden furniture,” says Bob. “I found an acrylic glue, which could be mixed with the wood dust (of various colors, depending on the wood used) to make a sort of paint that would take on the color of the wood.”

Meanwhile, Bob was also taking a watercolor class, as part of UMRC’s Artful Aging project.  He began experimenting with the wood paint he created, using a brush to apply it to paper and creating textures.  “Then I wondered how the map of a state would look using different wood colors to distinguish terrain, as mountains and plains, hills, and valleys,” says Bob.  “And maybe blue lines for rivers, and green tints for vegetation.”

Bob decided to start with Wyoming.  “I had lived there as a child and remembered the mountains and plains,” says Bob. “I used a piece of canvas about the size of a postcard and used a small topographical map of Wyoming as a model.”  Next, he painted Kansas, where his mother was raised, and then Michigan, for his father.  “When our watercolor instructor saw it, she told me, ‘You ought to be working larger.’”  At her suggestion, Bob began using larger sheets of paper for his next state maps.  “The Chelsea District Library supplies me with maps that give me good topographic models,” says Bob.

Ultimately, Bob completed a topographical map painting for each of the fifty states plus Puerto Rico, which are currently on display at Glazier Commons.  His next project is creating map paintings of the countries of Europe.

For more information, contact Chelsea Retirement Community at 734-433-1000 ext. 3704.