• Maria Manning

Sam Scherer's Wooden Bowls

In Western Mass., Beauty is in the Hands of the Beholder

By: Maria Manning

ORANGE, MA.— In today’s high volume, digitally driven society, product creation is often impersonal as factory machines pump out generic products with the simple touch of a button.

According to Cynthia Consentino, an art professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, there even seems to be a cheapening of materials created more for function than aesthetic.

This realization; however, has not stopped the creativity of local artists and craftsmen in Western Massachusetts, like Orange resident Sam Scherer, 68.

Every day, Scherer cuts, scrapes and turns wooden bowls in his small garage wood shop, giving new life to the cherry, maple, birch and walnut woods he finds on his land and neighboring properties.

A retired high school teacher, Scherer started his craft 10 years ago when living in Seattle, Washington, after recovery from back surgery left him searching for a hobby. A big leaf maple fell in his yard, prompting a few local bowl turners interested in the new material to visit his property, he got his chance and began taking lessons.

Scherer showcases and sells his work at local craft fairs and farmers markets. Prices range from $25 to $225 depending upon the size and uniqueness of each piece. The first bowl he ever made however—a large and beautiful marbled looking piece he and his wife often eat salad out of—will never be for sale.

“It’s thick and heavy and has lots of imperfections but it reminds me of the very first time I saw wood shavings, so I like it,” Scherer said.

He added that each bowl he makes is turned with patience, care and an absence of ego.

“I don’t impose my will,” he said. “Wood, I think, is the most beautiful because it’s different, it reveals itself, it has imperfections. I play with the shape…I’m not trying to make something fit a mold.

Scherer’s pieces cannot be made by a factory machine or found in a department store. They are original and organic, qualities Amherst Farmer’s Market Manager, David Machowski, found quite special and important to share with the community and the atmosphere of the market.

“You have this one individual, putting his heart and soul into these pieces, cherry picking the wood…it’s old world craftsmanship,” said Machowksi. “Every piece that he creates is one off, that’s it, it will never be duplicated.”

Machowski added that when Scherer presents in his booth, he gives customers an etherial and tactile experience. He does not just put the bowls in people’s hands, he asks them to feel a connection with the piece and envision where it might sit in their homes.

“He’s got a lot of fire when he talks about it with people,” Machowksi said. “What you're getting is a very individual, high quality product. It adds an immense value that kind of gets away from the whole cookie cutter society.”

Like Scherer, Alex Clements, a junior studying operations and information management at the UMass Amherst, enjoys woodworking and said the therapeutic nature of creating with his hands provides a physical outlet and cathartic experience that can’t be bought.

“It really requires a lot of thought, focus and patience,” Clements said. “Being able to invest myself like that really helps center me.

Clements added that the value of handmade doesn't just develop from the minutes or hours spent on a project, it also comes from the frustration and passion.

Consentino agreed and said there exists a sense of connection to materials and personal power in craftsmanship.

“You can have control of the whole process and express part of yourself in the work,” Consentino said. “Handmade gives you the opportunity to have a relationship with something, one thing that is uniquely itself.”

Inside his wood shop on Sunday, Oct. 1, amid the scattered tools and shavings, Scherer clearly showed a connection with his materials. While gently finishing a newly carved bowl with walnut oil, he smiled and explained that his work comes from a spiritual muse, one that allows him to impart his feelings and time into each piece.

To him, the bowls are not just products, they are extensions of himself and pieces of art that will last more than a lifetime.

A maple piece, the first bowl Scherer ever handcrafted.

A few pieces from Scherer’s collection ranging in type (maple, cherry, birch and walnut) and size.

Scherer begins creating edges on a new bowl with a gouge tool.

Scherer inspects his work as it spins on a lathe.

Classical music plays softly in the background while Scherer creates in his wood shop.