The woodworkers of Brooksby Village

‘Museum-quality’ craftsmanship on display at Peabody community

Created date

October 8th, 2019
Bill Dillon with the ark and animals he carved by hand.

Bill Dillon with the ark and animals he carved by hand.

When Brooksby’s woodworkers displayed a sampling of their projects in the community’s arts and crafts studios, neighbors and staff were astounded by their skill and creativity.

“The craftsmanship is incredible,” says community member Marie Wakefield. “Several of the pieces appear to be museum quality.”

Brooksby’s woodshop, located in the Orchard View Court residence building, is a hive of activity, with woodworkers and stained-glass artists sharing skills and an interest in each other’s projects.

The Tribune recently sat down with three of Brooksby’s woodworkers to learn more.

Bruce Wedlock, Federal period clock

“The first time I saw an Eli Terry Pillar and Scroll Clock, I loved it,” says Bruce Wedlock. “I knew I’d like to recreate it at some point.”

Eli Terry, an inventor and clockmaker in Connecticut during the American Federal period (1789-1823), received a U.S. patent for his shelf clock mechanism and introduced mass production to clockmaking, making clocks affordable for the average American at the time.

Drawing on his woodworking expertise, Bruce spent several months developing plans to build his own replica of an Eli Terry clock. 

“Building this clock required a wide range of woodworking skills,” says Bruce, an electrical engineer and retired lecturer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Convenient workspace

Bruce’s skill set is well-honed, thanks to hours spent in the woodshop, first at his house in North Reading, then at Brooksby, where he’s lived in a two-bedroom Kingston-style apartment with his wife Marjorie since December 2013.

“This apartment fell in our lap,” says Bruce. “[We’re on the priority list, so] we got a call from Brooksby’s sales team, letting us know the apartment right across the hall from the woodshop was available. We drove over right away to look at it.”

Bruce’s proximity to the woodshop makes it easy to spend several hours a day working on his projects, which are primarily from the American Federal period.

When it came to the Eli Terry clock reproduction, Bruce had a few practical considerations to take into account.

“The Eli Terry clock was the first shelf clock built in the United States,” says Bruce. “Eighteenth century clocks used wooden movements which were too deep for a shelf clock. Eli Terry patented a thin wooden movement in 1816 and launched the Connecticut shelf clock industry.”

For his replica, Bruce scaled Eli Terry’s clock dimensions to two-thirds the size. He searched for hardware to fit his plans and asked an artist friend to paint a scene on the clock’s glass front.

Award-winning reproduction

Bruce’s clock, crafted from mahogany with padauk trim, earned a blue ribbon in the Topsfield Fair in 2015. Bruce has since crafted five more Eli Terry clock reproductions.

Bruce’s construction drawings and patterns for the clock are available online at the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers website.

“Bruce’s attention to detail is incredible,” Marjorie says. “He puts so much thought and effort into each of his projects.”

Louis Zirin, carousel animals

“What attracted me most to Brooksby Village was the woodshop,” says Louis Zirin, who moved to the Peabody, Mass., community from Marblehead in 2011. “I had a small woodworking shop in my basement, but nothing like the one at Brooksby. It’s fantastic.”

For the better part of five decades, Louis has made furniture for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

“I’ve made tables and chairs, chests of drawers, even a Murphy bed for my great-granddaughter,” says Louis, a retired General Electric engineer. “I also built six bookshelves in the Brooksby woodshop and donated them to the West Peabody library.”

Making a menagerie

Louis’s woodworking pursuits expanded in 2018 when he picked up a coffee table book at a sale organized through the Brooksby library.

“I was browsing through the books and found one called Carving Carousel Animals,” says Louis. “I started thumbing through it and fell in love with the animals on the pages.”

Louis took his newfound muse to Brooksby’s workshop, where he spent five months carving a small-scale carousel horse he named Sir Galahad.

“I worked on it every day for a few hours,” says Louis. “The work gave me a new appreciation for woodcarvers who crafted carousel figures in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They had incredible skill.”

Energized by the finished product, Louis purchased additional books about carousel figures and set to work carving a small-scale carousel frog, which he called The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, a nod to Mark Twain’s 1865 short story. Next up was a goat, which Louis dubs his best work to date. Louis’s most recent work is a lion and a mouse, which he calls The King and His Friend.

“My goal is to carve eight or nine animals,” he says. “I’d like to have enough to create a circle representing a carousel ride.”

Louis’s carved carousel figures received an award for outstanding work in the crafts category in the July 2019 Marblehead Festival of Arts.

He also displayed his carousel figures in one of the Brooksby arts and crafts studios, where residents delighted in the colorful animals. 

“Louis’s carousel animals are an example of the many lovely crafts created by residents in Brooksby’s shop,” says Faye Williams. “We’re fortunate to have such a wonderful amenity.” 

Bill Dillon, ark and animals

One of the first amenities Bill Dillon sought out after he and his wife Marilyn moved to Brooksby was the woodshop.

“I had a woodshop in our home in Gloucester, and I donated some of my tools to the workshop at Brooksby,” he says. “I’m so happy to have a place to work on my projects.”

Bill’s scope of projects is extensive, ranging from bird carvings to walking sticks. But one particular project caught the interest of Brooksby’s residents when they saw it on display at the community.

“I wanted to donate an item to raise money for the Gloucester Education Foundation, and I decided to build an ark,” says Bill, who spent months crafting the ark and accompanying animals.

“He carved the ark from a single piece of basswood,” says Marilyn. “It was incredible to see it take shape.”

Bill chose each animal for its distinct appearance.

“I wanted to carve animals that stand out, like giraffes, elephants, and zebras,” he says.

As luck would have it, Bill’s granddaughter Annie held the winning ticket when the ark was raffled off.

“It stayed in the family,” he says. “My granddaughter usually keeps the ark, but she let me borrow it to display at Brooksby for the woodworkers’ showcase.”

“Bill’s craftsmanship is incredible,” says Marie. “It’s amazing to think he carved the ark and animals by hand.”