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A turn for the best

Local artist discovered his talent in retirement

Created date

September 24th, 2014
wood bowls
WCD_1014_LenHilgartnerwoodworker_pic4_web.jpg

Len Hilgartner’s hobby of 36 years plays an important role in his retirement. In fact, it was one of two variables that dictated where he and his wife would spend their golden years. 

“The woodshop and the Erickson values dictated why we’re here now,” Len says.

After his niece introduced him to Erickson Living, a continuing care retirement community developer that was building in Highlands Ranch, Colo., in 2007, he said, “If you can guarantee there will be a woodshop, I’ll give you my money.”

Erickson Living made the guarantee, and Len and his wife Betty moved to Crest October 17, 2007, from Albuquerque, N.M. Fans of traveling via motor home (everywhere from the Mississippi River west and from Canada to Mexico), they chose a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath Fenton floor plan with a “great view of the mountains.”

In fact, he says, they traveled so much during Wind Crest’s construction phase that they moved in without seeing their new home. 

A turn for the best

Upon settling in, Len quickly took the lead in setting up the woodshop with state-of-the-art machinery, tools, and workspaces. He helped found a woodworkers group, which would build and repair furniture for themselves and for neighbors. 

Then something unexpected happened. 

With his newfound free time and carefree lifestyle at Wind Crest, Len’s hobby took a turn—literally. “I read a book on segmented turning, and ever since then I’ve been hooked,” he says. 

Segmented turning, or creating bowls and vases from hundreds of small wooden pieces, is a tedious, complicated process that requires dedication and attention to detail. He connects each piece with glue and mathematical precision then uses a lathe to smooth and round the curves.

“A bowl can be made from 472 pieces that all have to fit into place,” he says. “It is very hard to describe.” 

Hard to describe, yes. But beautiful to behold. 

He creates patterns with different types of wood—maple, walnut, black walnut, ebony, blood wood—and adds a colorful splash with powdered turquoise.

At it for just under two years, he has several pieces in a Littleton gallery—the Depot Gallery. The old railroad depot has been around for 52 years, Len says, and provides the right showcase for his pieces. 

He creates custom pieces and has several orders on the books. But his heart is in the design. “That’s the fun part,” he says, “the design process.”

A perfect fit

Just as each wooden piece fits perfectly with the next, Len says he and his wife’s move to Wind Crest has been a perfect fit as well. 

The maintenance-free lifestyle allows him to pursue his complicated hobby without the hassles of a house and yard. A simple monthly service fee covers use of all amenities, round-the-clock home maintenance and repairs, a flexible meal plan in on-site restaurants, all utilities except telephone, and property taxes. So not only did they shed the burdens of house maintenance, they consolidated all their bills into one convenient check each month.

Denver’s mild weather fits them, too. “Albuquerque got too hot in the summertime, so we wanted to move north,” he says. Now they enjoy cool summers and mild winters with a change of seasons.

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