Soul Searching, Handmade Treasures, Living History Are Timeless Gifts

The holidays always make me feel a little nostalgic. Who can resist twinkling lights, heartwarming choral music and the smell of baked cookies everywhere you turn? 

If my husband had his way, every toy under the tree would be something handmade. Thanks to aunts and uncles in Austria, there is usually a spirited Gschnitzer hand-painted, wooden puppet of some sort jumping under our Frazier fir. But each year we find that tradition becomes harder and harder to keep. There seem to be precious few things on the shelves that aren’t made of plastic, blare sounds and require batteries. 

I urge everyone to pass by the tablets, pads and plastic gifts, and consider something novel for those on your holiday list — something handmade. Better yet, something handmade right here on the Emerald Coast.

In researching our new column Made on the EC, we discovered many interesting and talented artisans and entrepreneurs who have put their hearts into their wares. In this issue we feature Brett Henry and Brett Martin — two carpenter-turned-furniture designers, who are building exciting, one-of-a-kind tables, benches, swings and more from reclaimed wood and repurposed castoffs such as armoires. 

Not only do you get to take home an original, custom piece of furniture, lovingly handcrafted, but I’m convinced that engrained in the knots, nicks and dents is the living history of those pine, mahogany and cedar planks. Each blemish is just an indication of its previous years of service — maybe as a sturdy dining room table where family and friends gathered to enjoy hearty meals and heady conversation, or maybe a bookshelf full of the classics. Who knows?

Speaking of living history, it can be found right here in our own “backyard.” The Colonial and Victorian days of Pensacola come alive at Pensacola Historic Village through dedicated staff — many of them history majors from the University of West Florida — serving as interpreters of Pensacola’s history. They should be called caretakers, because all of those we spoke with were meticulously careful in relating facts from the period all the way down to their Fugawee shoes and authentic period garb. 

There’s more than a good chance you can find an interesting wooden toy, handmade metal amusement, paper airplane, hand-sewn bonnet, not to mention a stick of penny candy for the stocking, at the gift shop in the Tivoli High House on Zaragoza Street. The day we visited we got to watch volunteer/history buff Gray Bass carefully carving an early 19th-century flint rifle under a live oak tree shading a common area between several historic cottages on the guided tour.

To be able to use your hands to customize furniture, carve a toy, create jewelry, shape a tool; to be able to bore a musket or put a bend in a bow to hunt down dinner is truly something I admire. When it is made by a local and comes tagged not with a price but with a history lesson and a bit of the creator’s soul poured into it, it becomes a shared experience, a treasure … which is not only timeless — it’s priceless. 

Categories: Opinion