Craft master: Art emerges from hobby

January 10, 2011 

Enter Gallery 209 in Savannah, take a gentle right and sharp left turn and feast your eyes on the beautifully constructed wooden bowls and cutting boards display.

The craftsmanship is the work of Charles Hiles, a Sun City Hilton Head resident who had a desire to expand his skills in custom woodworking. Now, just a few years after mastering the art of designing and constructing small-size objects, Hiles' pieces are for sale at the co-op gallery in River Street's Factory Walk district.

"I'm happy to be there. I'd like for people to get enjoyment from my pieces," said the soft-spoken carpenter.

Hiles, who is 70, has worked with wood over the years, making and selling everything from tables to display cases. He also built houses in his younger days.

On a professional level, the Kentucky native was a mechanical engineer for 30 years at IBM and later did contract work for various companies. He and his wife, Charlotte, moved from South Florida to Sun City in August 2004. It didn't take long before the couple began exploring the clubs and activities offered at the retirement community.

Hiles became active in the Woodworkers and Modelmakers Guild. He learned how to use a lathe, which is a machine that holds wood and other materials and forms shapes through a rotating motion. Before he knew it, the gifted carpenter mastered his new hobby.

"It seemed simple to me," Hiles said nonchalantly. "You just make up dimensions, build it and put it together."

Hiles' pieces are made from maples, mahogany, cherry, poplar or whatever's available. Although the Sun City club has a wood supply at its workshop, Hiles said he's always on the lookout for unusual wood.

Hiles uses more than one type of wood in most of his pieces, which gives uniqueness to each bowl and cutting board. The assembling process is time-consuming as the components are stacked in a specific order to create blocks before the piece is mounted on the lathe.

Each piece takes about four to seven days to complete, working about three hours a day, Hiles said.

Hiles is one of 32 artists at the gallery, which includes several people from Bluffton. He applied for a spot in December, getting the approval of the gallery's board of directors. Hiles' display has been up since the new year and will remain at the gallery indefinitely. Cutting boards run roughly $90 while bowls are pricier.

"We try to give the customer a good variety of art. We have a woodworker who we've had for years who does wonderful work. But Charlie's work is so different because of the process he uses," said Sue Nichols, president of the Gallery 209 board of directors.

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