Soldotna man makes large-scale clocks with small-scale detail

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

To say George Callison is detail oriented is an understatement. Calling the Soldotna retiree obsessed with details would be a bit much, but he does admit to being addicted to it.

Callison is a wood carver and has created immense and elaborate wood clocks in the shapes of fanciful multilevel buildings that reach several feet high, complete with soaring bell towers and spires, intricate miniature hand railings and working doors with tiny hinges and even smaller knobs.

There isn't an inch of these structures that isn't embellished or carved into some intricate geometric design. To view them across a room is impressive enough, but to peer from a few inches away inside the structures at the working lights, textured walls, miniature carved piano, tiny wall painting and other embellishments, gives a new appreciation for the term "attention to detail."

Callison started carving in earnest about 12 years ago, though he said he constantly fiddled with birdhouses and other creations growing up in Georgia. He has led a busy life, which didn't allow much time for the pursuit of carving. He served in the Air Force, as well as worked in the law enforcement profession in Geor-gia.

Callison moved to Alaska with his in-laws in the early 1960s, he said. He spent five years in Anchorage, then moved to the Kenai Peninsula to work security for the construction of the Unocal plant in Nikiski. That started a career in the oil field industry, including jobs on an oil platform, as an operation supervisor in Valdez and as an operations shift supervisor at the Tesoro plant.

It wasn't until after raising his three children, Steven Ray Callison, Deborah Ann Sims-Callison and Krystal Rose Callison, with his wife, Pat, and retiring from his Tesoro position that he found the time to pursue carving.

He had a friend who carved similar structures and decided to give it a try. The challenge of the large-scale projects with small-scale details appealed to him.

"I saw it and liked it and figured if they could do it, I could do it, too," he said.

Callison started small with a wall plaque, but soon was hooked and jumped right in to a full-sized clock structure.

"It was more addicting than anything else," he said, adding that it seemed like entire days would pass while he worked without him noticing. "It was dark when I looked down at it and dark when I looked back up."

What appealed most to him about the multifaceted projects was looking forward to the completed product.

"To see an accomplished creation of something, something that you look forward to seeing what the end result of it will be," he said. "I just enjoy it. It's real relaxing."


This jewelry box, which Callison made for his wife, is an example of Callison's other carving projects.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

Callison orders patterns for his structures, then purchases wood and prepares it by having it planed down to one-quarter inch thickness. He uses poplar and birch mainly, with cedar to add contrasting tones. He doesn't paint or stain his clocks just uses linseed oil for protection preferring to show off the natural tones of the wood.

Each carved detail is drilled out then refined with saw blades, some not much thicker than a hair.

Callison uses hand tools, power tools and specialty carving tools for his projects and takes care to smooth out any burrs or rough spots from the wood, whether they'd be noticeable in the finished product or not.

From start to finish, a medium-sized clock can take him about 400 hours to complete, and a large-scale, multilevel structure can take upward of 740 hours and 50 board feet of wood.

This explains why some people who get into this type of carving get a third or halfway through a project and never progress past that.

Callison, however, has never left a project undone. Dedication and having a genuine interest in the work is key, he said.

"They just have to be interested in doing it," Callison said. "If not, they're wasting a lot of money. Those tools don't come cheap. You better know you're going to like it before you get into it or you spend a lot of money on nothing."

Another pitfall is getting into a project and tiring of the relentless attention to detail that is required to produce a quality project.


This two-level mantel clock is a mid-sized project of Callison's.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

"That's the whole thing in a nutshell you gotta have patience," Callison said. "If you don't have patience, why there again, you're wasting money."

Callison has never sold his work, in part because his wife won't part with it. It also would be difficult to find a buyer willing to pay what the clocks are worth in materials and the immense amount of labor required to make them.

"They'd have to have more money than they got brains," Callison joked.

Even though Callison isn't reimbursed financially for his work, the praise he gets from visitors who see the clocks is reward enough for him.

"I appreciate comments that people have made," he said. "I appreciate their effort to help me in any way they could."

His only regret is that he doesn't have more time to make his timepieces.

"I wish I had gotten into that 30 years ago," he said.

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