“Something good comes out of everything,” explained Bernie Thomas as he talked about his love of working with wood and how this craft took hold of him and hasn’t let go. One of Thomas’ most recent projects has been making 84 crosses for the Methodist Olive Branch Hospital to hang in patient rooms and family areas.
“It intrigues me that something I made will live on after I’m gone,” said Thomas.
Thomas retired in 1995 after his wife Celine was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors told the couple she had three to six months to live. Thankfully, that short time span turned into 14 years.
Thomas started out with a simple lathe to turn bedposts for a bed he made himself and his wife. Then his wife asked him to make her a bowl. His passion for wood working took over when one bowl turned into another and another, until he was overrun with bowls. He started attending crafts fairs to sell his handiwork. His goal, that his hobby doesn’t cause him to lose money.
Word of mouth spread about the beautiful bowls he crafted, and he began getting commissions to create artwork. Thomas looks at a piece of wood and “sees” its potential, like the arch of a fish’s back that turned into several mobile’s now hanging in the lobby at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
Ever since Thomas was a child, he has loved working with his hands. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s he opened a kitchen cabinet business. Later, he owned Jakes Foundry in Nashville and Nashville Manufacturing. He sold those two businesses when he retired. The common thread throughout his life has been his passion for working with wood.
He sells the bowls he makes on his website www.exoticbowls.com and also at several Memphis stores.