‘Inside the tree’

Ames woodworker’s gallery is on display at the Blanden

-Messenger photos by Michaela Frerichs
Roger Nass, of Ames, poses next to his favorite piece displayed at the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge. Nass’ exhibit, “Inside the Tree” will be on display until Nov. 13.

Roger Nass didn’t begin woodworking until he retired nearly 20 years ago but today, he has several pieces of his work displayed at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum.

After Nass retired from his research and development management career in 2003, he was looking for a hobby.

“I thought I was going to play tennis, golf, or fish but if you look at those things you really have nothing to show you did anything,” said Nass.

Nass has two sisters who are nationally known wildlife artists and Nass said he found himself a bit jealous.

“I know my sisters’ paintings will be around long after they’re gone and I was looking at my whole career and I’m thinking I’m not leaving anything to show I was here,” he said.

A variety of turned wood pieces made by Roger Nass are on display at the Blanden Art Museum. Nass said he does his best to highlight the natural look of the wood he works.

In 2003, Nass was living in Paris and chose to move to Ames.

“People who knew me thought I was nuts,” Nass laughed.

Nass said he and his wife were familiar with Ames since their daughter attended Iowa State University and still lived in the area. Nass also is originally from Minnesota.

“We knew it was a pretty nice place but we didn’t realize how nice it really is,” he said.

Nass began making wood furniture when he started woodworking but once he was introduced to wood turning, he was hooked.

A display of tiny wooden hats Roger Nass has made. Nass said he started making them for his grandchildren for fun but people enjoy them so he made more. Nass said he never paints or stains his pieces but the hats are an exception. Nass said some are even flocked to make them look like they are fabric but all of them are turned wood.

“It’s addictive and once I got into turning I didn’t want to do anything else so I stopped making furniture and went strictly to the wood turning,” Nass said.

Nass said he loves the variety of trees Iowa has, both native and non-native.

“Iowa grows a tremendous variety of trees and a lot of the trees I get in the Ames area aren’t even indigenous to Iowa but they’ve been planted there,” Nass said.

“I probably turn 100 species of trees so I have this tremendous variety of wood to choose from. If you make furniture it’s pretty much red oak, white oak, cherry, and maple and that’s about it,” he said.

Woodturning takes a lot of patience as it can take over a year for a piece to dry out.

Some of Nass’ pieces have this unique spiky appearance. Nass said most wood types do not allow for this technique.

“I turn it wet to a rough shape and then I let it air dry before I come back to finish it. Depending on how big the piece is, I allow about a year per inch of thickness,” said Nass. “Some of the bigger pieces sat for three or four years.”

Nass said he never cuts down trees to turn the wood. He sources only from trees that are already being cut down or have fallen on their own.

“We got a lot of wood from the Derecho last year and we have a tremendous source of ash wood because of the emerald ash borer killing trees,” said Nass.

Nass said he uses wood from the crown of the trees which is not usable for furniture making. He said milling companies usually only want the main trunk.

Unlike most woodworkers he knows, Nass said he doesn’t sell his work.

“I donate for fundraisers. For example, the Derecho destroyed hundreds of trees at the Iowa Arboretum and the woodworking club I’m in took a lot of the wood and we’re turning it so we can donate the pieces back to the arboretum so they can auction that off,” Nass said.

Since he doesn’t sell his work, he has lots of pieces stocked up.

“I could probably fill all the galleries in this museum with the pieces I have done,” he said.

Nass is living proof that you’re never too old to find your passion.

“The best work that I’ve done, many of which are at the Blanden, I did in my 70s. I wanted to make things that I thought could be around that people could enjoy later in the future,” he said.

“Inside the Tree” by Roger Nass will be on display at the Blanden until Nov. 13 of this year.


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