Dennis Brett #257SU - Second Most Senior Member
Interviewed by Mihaly Czako PhD #5220L. Posted 03-09-2017
Over 70 years of 'growth' in wood collecting have occurred for this collector amassing 5,500-6,000 standard size specimens. The only exception to standard size is a very rare specimen of Welwitschia given to me by the late Archie F. Wilson, former president and editor of the WCS Bulletin for many years. No woody plant was ignored. Some species took 50 or more pieces, such as Rosa rugosa, to obtain a sample. It is wood and I had to have it. When I collected, I had an herbarium to back it up. That specimen was 100% correct as the head botanist of the New York Botanical Gardens did the identification for me. Here was a man who was interested in helping me grow a collection. Many a good year I spent learning the art of herbarium collecting. It was by the age of 9 or 10 and I was collecting and getting to know walnut, the real mahogany, Shorea, maple, birch, etc.
The shop teacher after school had a brother-in-law who was a forester. I found out about the WCS, joined and sawdust was in my blood. I joined IWCS in March, 1953. Here were my years of corresponding with the original founders Harold Nogle and Wib Opdyke and the birth of the Wood Collectors Society. I purchased all the samples that Harold had to offer and I also spent a few days with him and family in Port Arthur, Texas. When I met Harold, I expected to see a 6-foot person since Texans had a saying that everything in Texas was always bigger than anywhere else. He answered me, "Good things come in small packages." Needless to say, I was considered his adopted son. Harold's place to entertain a wood collector was his cabin in the woods at Big Cow Creek, Texas, an hour from his home. His specialty was his own Carya tomentosa (hickory) smoked to perfection steak with gravy. I came away holding the record of eating 4 lbs. of beef you cut with a fork. Once eaten the taste lingers in your taste bud cells for the rest of your life. When Harold came to New York City he froze a steak or 2 or 3 the night before. The next evening a few local wood boys sat for hours enjoying steak and shop talk. Oh, what a great memory for this termite!
Who were the wood collectors, woodworkers, artisans, and craft people? Men and women from all walks of life who loved wood and woodworking. Oh, yes, there were many of us who were sample people like myself. Sample collecting was and always will be part of me. As I am writing I am thinking of all the people I met at IWCS meetings and corresponded with. One being the late Howard Whipple (former president of WCS) and his impeccable craftsmanship. I was privileged to spend time at his home in Berkeley, California. It took him an average eight hours of sanding to do a square inch of sanding a jointless joint. Just visualize looking at something where you cannot see the hairline joint. PHOTO: William F. Pond of Portsmouth, VA, in the corner of his shop in 1952.
Group photo from March 1950. Back row – left to right: Pete Yurkin (#94), Wayne Kniffin (#152, past president), H.J. Dentzman (#2, past president), E.J. McGrillis (#88). Front row - left to right: Ray Cottrell (#120), G. Wade Earle (#106), Harold Nogle (#3), Marks Black (not a mem-ber), Oscar Muse (#137), A. Riotta (not a member).
Our organization today has lost, to an extent, the sample collectors. I've tried to come up with some answers as to why but I keep going back to square one. It must be the computer and its offshoots. The hobby as we know it takes time and no one today has the time to put into a "HOBBY".
Former president and great friend Frank Knox and Dave Lubell.-right-(showing his back). Left photo-J.A. Larralde, architect & hobbyist, wood turner, collector of rare and exotic woods, former president, Laguna Beach, CA, Sept. 10, 1955
That brings me to the members of IWCS today who have wood to offer. We seem to be putting hobbies on hold. What do you do with your 'relaxation time'? Look around and see what wood you have on hand. Is that exotic? Ordinary? Look over WoW to see who offers what. Contact your fellow collector. Some have large pieces and logs of one of a kind. Realize these are what are available today but not tomorrow. Once gone, the exotic is exotic in someone else's collection. No longer available. Let's all share our collection for use tomorrow. Bring back wood collecting - the sample and plank/log collecting. Create a work of art for tomorrow from wood secured today.
At the Annual General Meeting on July 19, 2015 State College, PA, USA, I was invited to speak a little bit about my early experiences in IWCS, then called WCS. There I presented the organization with a picture of founder and Past President Harold Nogle, with whom I was posing (see photos on the cover). The photo was taken in September, 1955, in Port Arthur, Texas, when I was 19 years and 11 months old.
I found many other old and fading photos of my wood collecting past; see some of them on this page and on page 28. When I received a camera, I was a happy snapper. I took many pictures.
Members in the early years wrote letters to each other and some letters were very long. There was much to talk about. One of the letters that I received was a long scroll. I saved some of the letters that I received and others did also. Interestingly, the papers of Archie F. Wilson (see him on one of the photos on this page), and incidentally the letters that I wrote to him, have been preserved in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
For about forty years I put wood collecting on hold while I was making a living running my own business. I am retired from it now and I am back to collecting. I find that it is hard to get wood identified by experts because there are fewer services available. I used to get identification by the Center for Wood Anatomy Research in Madison, but not anymore. I donated the bulk of my collection to Penn State University, but I still have some wood at home. I am trying to collect more.
Photo top left: Meeting group photo taken at the home of Archie F. Wilson, former president, circa 1952.
Photo top right: Harold Nogle, founder and former president by the tree and Archie Wilson, former president, by the table, circa 1952.
Photo bottom left: Chester Frejnik at his wood-collecting desk. The desk was made by himself; the drawer fronts and handles are of different woods, each and every one. Each drawer holds 80 specimens. Some of the mementos of different wood collectors are on the desk.