Bay inspires ‘accidental’ artist
KENT ISLAND — Tom Gauntt of Stevensville found an unfortunate turn of events sending him down a most serendipitous path. Gauntt, a career pilot with Southwest Airlines, will be making his television debut on the INSP award-winning original series, “Handcrafted America,” that tells the stories of artisans from around the country who make products the oldfashioned way: with their own hands.
In every half-hour of the series, host Jill Wagner (“Christmas in the Smokies,” “Teen Wolf,” “Wipeout”) meets three gifted artisans and gets a behind-the-scenes look at how their products are created. Along the way, viewers learn about the history and cultural heritage that inspire and influence the design of their handcrafted products.
Gauntt’s episode will air at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22. In the introduction, Wagner states, “Maryland is well-known for its culture and food (hello, crabs!) but creativity abounds in this state as well!” Gauntt was chosen for his talent of crafting intricate driftwood and sea glass writing pens.
Gauntt said he was unexpectedly dealing with an autoimmune disease two years ago that had him away from his usual outdoor hobbies. He said he needed an outlet to keep busy and turned to a hobby that had always held an interest for him — wood working.
During a conversation with his daughter (an artist, as well, studying fine art in college) about pens, they decided to buy a small lathe and see what kind of pens could be turned. Gauntt said he started making a few pens just for the fun of it. He was drawn to driftwoods that wash up from the Chesapeake Bay and nearby Chester River. The natural voids left in the pieces of wood by the Bay were ideal to fill with resin tinted to resemble sea glass, Gauntt said.
The result was a pen that was an incredible work of art on its own. The response Gauntt received when he shared some of his first work with his friends via Facebook was surprising. He said, “it was really interesting to see what grabbed people’s [attention].”
On a whim, Gauntt decided to answer an ad at Uncommon Goods, an online shop specializing in unique and handcrafted pieces. He submitted a few pieces of his work and is now one of their featured artists. A producer for “Handcrafted America” saw some of his pens and immediately thought Gauntt would be a natural fit for the show. The rest, as they say, is history.
The show came to film Gauntt at his home and wood craft shop on Kent Island and even filmed some of their scenes at nearby Terrapin Park. The process of creating just one pen takes months, he explained. The wood is gathered, dried, and treated before it can be turned and made into a pen.
Gauntt said he does not have a large inventory, nor is he interested in “cranking out thousands of the same thing.”
“For me, it is about creating a connection to some thing — a person, place, or event. It is the personal connection that appeals, and allows me to connect these things to people,” he said.
Gauntt’s job as a pilot affords him the opportunity to travel to different locations in the U.S. and he is always looking for materials that hold a special connection. He has acquired wood blanks from Mark Twain’s house and also Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home. Gauntt also creates custom pieces on request. One client sent a piece of his wife’s homestead farm to be turned into a pen. The woman said it was the best gift she had ever received, Gauntt said. Those types of connections are so important to his work, he said.
He said he endeavors to mix colors, tints to evoke ideas or a memory. And the water, land, and people of the shore provide just the right back drop for Gauntt’s inspiration.
It is fun and surprising how the whole thing has happened, said Gauntt. Gauntt’s works can be found on Instagram at Chesapeakepenco and www.chesapeakepen.com.
From the flight deck, Tom Gauntt, airline pilot and artist.
Another of Tom Gauntt’s one of a kind pens created from driftwood found along the bay.