By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Jennifer Hale was born and raised in the Spring Hill community, just outside Cullman, Alabama. She graduated from West Point High School in 1984 and married her high school sweetheart, Jay Hale.
Jay joined the Air Force and couple spent the following 21 years moving around all over the world.
For eight of those years they lived in Okinawa, Japan, where Jennifer decided to enroll in an art class, more or less out of boredom. “My teacher was a Japanese artist who taught me the technique of sculpting on wood,” said Jennifer. “I fell in love with the art and it has turned out to be very therapeutic for me.”
Upon returning to the United States, however, she stopped sculpting because she had two children, Clayton and Patrick.
Jay retired from the Air Force in 2007, and they couple moved back to Spring Hill.
She went to work for Dr. Rex Adams, as a dental assistant about six months after returning to Cullman. When Dr. Adams learned of her craft, he gave her some of his old dental instruments. She uses them for sculpting and carving out the wood. Encouraged by her mother, Judy Jones, she started to take up her art again. Crafting and art work come easily to Hale, whose father, Kenneth Jones, is also an artist.
The wood she uses comes from many places. “Friends and family know not to burn any sticks or oddly shaped wood,” she laughed. “I have everyone looking for detailed wood or bark.”
She works on the quirky little faces all year round, either building up enough stock for a show, or traveling to shows. It takes her at least three or four weeks to complete 10 Santas. There are several different steps before each one is pronounced finished. “I’m out looking for wood a year ahead of time so that it has time to dry completely before I start to carve,” she explained.
“The best ones are the unusually shaped pieces,” she pointed out. “I normally look for a place on the wood that lets me know where to place the beard.”
She even fashions her Santas from tree limbs of all kinds and from bark. Someone brought her a big piece of bark from a tree downed in their yard by the 2010 tornado. It turned out to be one of the best she had ever done.
Hale has been very successfully selling her work for the past four years. She attends several local craft fairs and shows, and some in other parts of the state. She has traveled as far away as Texas, Missouri and Illinois to set up her booth, which always draws a crowd because her Santas are so unique.
“I love to see people’s faces and hear them when they realize that it is a piece of driftwood,” she smiled.
She admits that she has her favorites. “It’s always hard to sell some of them, but like my family says, I already have enough Santas,” she laughed.
Her work actually started selling while she was still in Okinawa. She has seen how shows of this kind draw a crowd from far away, just to come and see artwork or to buy original artwork for their homes.
Now she doesn’t travel very far because of her full-time job. She does set up shop at craft fairs in Boaz, Arab, Cullman, and for the Vinemont Band Boosters.
“I love doing craft shows,” she said. “I always get to meet such exciting and wonderful crafters.”
Hale would love to see the craft shows here expand to include more local craftsmen and artists. “There is so much talent here,” she pointed out. “The more people who exhibit their work, the more people will come to see and buy it. This helps the local economy tremendously because if the show is good enough they will travel great distances and they have to have somewhere to eat, sleep and buy gas.”
“The real way to draw big crowds to craft shows is to have lots of variety, a warm/cool place to exhibit, have the show well advertised in advance, and to feed people well while they are there. Having food vendors is a great way to keep people shopping,” she laughed.
For more information on Hale’s art, contact her at Backwoods Craftin’, 256-736-3546.