He guides a slab of plywood around and around, in a pattern only he can see. And when he’s done, the result is an image revealed through the absence of wood.
Gilbert has been creating scroll saw art for years, but recently turned his skill into a project to help families of the men and women who are wounded or who die in the service of their communities and their country.
Through his Wounded and Fallen Heroes Project, Gilbert creates scroll saw portraits of wounded or fallen members of the military, police, fire department as well as POWs and MIAs.
“It’s to thank them for keeping us free and for keeping us safe from harm,” Gilbert said. “It’s a way to preserve a memory, a way to honor those people.”
Gilbert uses photographs of his subjects as the basis for the portraits. Photos can be emailed or mailed to him. He then scans them into a computer. Using GIMP, an image manipulation program, he creates a cutout pattern of the image which he then transfers to plywood.
Then the real work begins.
After the image is copied to the plywood, Gilbert drills pilot holes into the pattern which will be his guide as he’s sawing. He adjusts the saw and begins turning the wood as the saw cuts tiny pieces of the plywood away.
One would think that with such intricate work as cutting out eyes or lips, that Gilbert would have to be slow and methodical. But after years of using the scroll saw, he appears to know exactly how much to move the wood to achieve exactly the cut he desires.
“If you make a mistake you just have to trash it and start over,” he said. “When I first started I trashed a lot of pieces. But I’ve gotten to where I can move pretty quickly and not make any mistakes.”
And as the saw moves with a gentle whirring noise, and the wood turns in Gilbert’s hands, a shape begins to emerge — eyes, a nose, shoulders — and suddenly a fallen hero is brought to life.
There are portraits of young naval officers, veteran pilots, high-ranking police officers and brave firefighters throughout the workshop. Gilbert said the pieces make a wonderful gift for families and friends or for the service men and women themselves.
He asks only a flat rate of $5 to cover expenses, and will work with almost any image he’s given. The higher the quality of the image, the more detailed the portrait will be. But he does his best to work with older or faded images.
“A picture will fade over time,” he said. “But something like this (scroll saw portrait) will last much longer. It’s something you can display proudly to honor someone. And it’s a locally handmade piece of art.”
For additional information, visit online at woundedandfallenheroes.webs.com or search for “wounded and fallen hero project” on Facebook.
To contact Gilbert or to send photos for portraits, email email@example.com.