July 11, 2005 – Rodger Nickell was once a passionate scuba diver with 400 dives to his credit. He was president of the St. Croix Diving Association and at other times served as the club's secretary, the vice president and he adds, "I also did the newsletter."
That organization is now defunct, and about four years ago, as he approached his 60th birthday, his passion took off in a new direction.
He is now a wood turner. He treats wood like a potter treats clay, turning out wood vases, bowls and boxes. Each item is individual and his admirers say "a piece of art."
On a recent evening, while walking around his house on Carlton Road in William's Delight, Nickell showed off his creations, a total of 158 so far. When the subject comes to wood turning, his talk was nonstop and his passion was evident.
He talks with almost religious awe about the local woods he uses to make his objects. And there appears to be no local wood that he's not intimate with.
He picks up and caresses objects as he notes what trees they were made from mango, fichus, kapok, sea grape, rain tree, and buttonwood.
He says, "I never purposely cut down a tree. I just get wood wherever I can get it."
He says he was able to get a lot of fichus because the tree's roots were invading a resident's cistern. When those trees were cut down, he got the wood. He also tells of getting wood from people clearing views or from construction sites. He built a grandfather clock from discarded oak pallets.
He became passionate about wood turning even as he was learning it. He says, "I learned from tapes. I would watch, then go out to the garage and practice what I learned, then come back in and watch some more, and then go back outside and practice some more."
He also gives credit to a "great mentor": Avelino Samuel of St. John.
Patrons who have gone to the Good Hope's annual art show have probably seen Samuel's wood-turned work there.
Nickell, now 63, says he really has not gotten into the marketing of his creations yet. "I still have to make a living."
He currently works as a freelancer in home and maintenance repairs. "I do it all — hang doors, build cabinets, electrical and pipe work." He says all his work comes from word-of-mouth advertising.
However, he says, "Maybe I will be able to retire in a couple years from work and do this full time."
He hopes one day to be able to set exhibits at events like Mango Melee and the Good Hope art exhibit. So far, he has managed to have a one-day exhibit at the Caribbean Museum of Art in Frederiksted.
He donated one item to a charity function being held at the Reform Church on Kings Hill. The item brought in $450 for the church.
He says he is presently talking to a store owner in Gallows Bay about offering his pieces for sale there.
Nickell says he is still learning as much as he can about the trade. In a couple of weeks, he and seven other wood turners are heading to Kansas to attend the American Association of Wood Turners. He says there will be constant demonstrations by some of the best wood turners in the world. The trip is being sponsored by the V.I. Resource and Development Council.
Nickell and his wife, Patti, moved to St. Croix about 20 years ago. His company was transferring him to Manhattan. Instead, he quit his job and came to St. Croix where he had never been before.
He was doing some work on church pews in Frederiksted when he heard the church had a house donated to it. He said, "They said make an offer . I made an offer. They accepted."
And that is where they live now. Of course, Nickell has added some doors, some walls and some cabinets. On the walls there are underwater photographs he took while diving.
On just about every other shelve or sill there is a wood-turned box, vase or bowl.
Asked what he likes about St. Croix and what has kept him here, he answered, "I like sunshine."
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