Clockmaker makes them big - to the smallest detail

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2004

SOLDOTNA - To say George Callison is detail-oriented is an understatement.

Callison is a wood carver and has created immense and elaborate wood clocks in the shapes of fanciful multilevel buildings several feet high, complete with soaring bell towers and spires, intricate miniature hand railings and working doors with tiny hinges and even smaller knobs.

There isn't an inch that isn't embellished or carved into some intricate geometric design.

To view them from across a room is impressive enough, but to peer from a few inches at the working lights, textured walls, miniature carved piano, tiny wall painting and other embellishments gives a new appreciation for the term "attention to detail."

Callison, of Soldotna, started carving about 12 years ago, though he said he constantly fiddled with birdhouses and other creations growing up in Georgia.

He has led a busy life, which didn't allow much time for carving. He served in the Air Force and worked in law enforcement in Georgia.

Callison moved to Alaska with his in-laws in the early 1960s, he said. He spent five years in Anchorage, then moved to the Kenai Peninsula to work security for the construction of the Unocal plant in Nikiski.

That started a career in the oil field industry, including jobs on an oil platform, as an operation supervisor in Valdez and as an operations shift supervisor at the Tesoro plant.

It wasn't until after raising his three children, Steven, Deborah and Krystal, with his wife, Pat, and retiring from his job at Tesoro that he found the time to pursue carving.

He had a friend who carved similar structures and decided to give it a try. The challenge of large-scale projects with small-scale details appealed to him.

"I saw it and liked it and figured if they could do it, I could do it, too," he said.

Callison started small with a wall plaque but soon was hooked and began a full-size clock structure.

"It was more addicting than anything else," he said, adding entire days seemed to pass while he worked. "It was dark when I looked down at it and dark when I looked back up."

What appealed most to him about the multifaceted projects was looking forward to the completed product.

"To see an accomplished creation of something, something that you look forward to seeing what the end result of it will be," he said. "I just enjoy it. It's real relaxing."

Callison orders patterns for his structures, then buys wood and prepares it by having it planed down to one-quarter-inch thickness. He uses poplar and birch mainly, with cedar to add contrasting tones. He doesn't paint or stain his clocks, just uses linseed oil for protection, preferring to show off the natural tones of the wood.

Each carved detail is drilled, then refined with saw blades, some no thicker than a strand of hair. Callison uses hand tools, power tools and specialty carving tools for his projects and takes care to smooth out any burrs or rough spots from the wood, whether noticeable in the finished product or not.

From start to finish, a medium-size clock can take about 400 hours to complete, and a large-scale, multilevel structure can take 740 hours and 50 board feet of wood.

"That's the whole thing in a nutshell - you gotta have patience," Callison said.

Callison has never sold his work, in part because his wife won't part with it. It also would be difficult to find a buyer willing to pay what the clocks are worth in materials and labor.

Still, he finds reward in the admiration for his work.

"I appreciate comments that people have made," he said. "I appreciate their effort to help me in any way they could."

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