Made by Hand: Woman puts love, heart into crafts

Published on Wednesday, 4 June 2014 00:33 - Written by Emily Guevara, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

Wilma Thedford stood at a table with a Dremel Saw-Max in hand and smiled. Behind her, tools hung on the walls and lay on the counters.

“This is what I got for Christmas,” she said of the saw.

At 79, Mrs. Thedford remains active. Her woodworking proves it.

Since 1977, the Tyler resident has created folk art pieces that feature buildings reminiscent of a frontier town main street. Many of her pieces are country storefronts — think the general store.

The details in them are striking. A dog peers out of a doghouse next to the general store, an axe sticks out of a tree stump and a cat plays with a flower.

Each work represents a personal gift, often including details or a scene to fit the recipient: A longhorn for a University of Texas fan, the Texas Rangers’ ballpark fa￧ade for one of her grandsons, and an outhouse for the man who helped her family fix the toilet on their recreational vehicle.

“When I give (them) to my loved ones and my personal friends, and they get a thrill out of getting it, that is my reward,” said Mrs. Thedford, who has never sold one of her pieces and doesn’t intend to. “And I do want to let you know that my talent was given to me by the man up above.”

Her inspiration came from artwork she saw at a Lufkin restaurant in the late 1970s.

Each piece features a hand-painted landscape backdrop. Mrs. Thedford uses a Styrofoam block in the desired shape to form the building and give it depth.

She glues veneer from old doors to the Styrofoam to form the building’s siding and roofing shingles. Once completed, she glues the Styrofoam to the backdrop.

Baskets full of fruit and vegetables, which she sculpts out of colored clay, sit on the front porch of the country stores.

Acorns double as baskets. Thumbtacks form the tops of lamps. Ornamental crystal pieces function as streetlights. Sandpaper makes a screen door.

Some of the small pieces are purchased, including dog and cat figurines, faux porcelain dishes and trees.

“I just stick them in the window and make (them) look like something,” she said.

Her workshop behind her house is where she does the heavy lifting so to speak —cutting wood, making frames, painting and gluing.

Once she makes the individual pieces, she moves inside her house and puts them together. She made 20 folk art scenes last year and has made 70 in all. She plans to continue making them as long as she can.

“I love it,” she said. “I love when people enjoy them.”