For Bob St. Clair, woodworking started out as more than a hobby. He started out by making furniture for his home: a coffee table for the living room, a hutch for china in the dining room and others. He’ll later go on to start a small business with his craft, touring art fairs and selling on online marketplaces such as WisconsinMade Artisan Collective. Back then, however, Bob didn’t think anything would come of his woodworking. All that changed over a bet.
“We had some folks over to play cards one night,” Bob says. One of his guests thought Bob should sell some of his handmade furniture at an art fair. “And I said, no. No way. We ended up with a $50 bet that I would be able to get accepted to the Art Fair on the Square.”
This was in the early 1980s, when Art Fair on the Square focused on spotlighting Wisconsin-based artisans.
“We did get into Art Fair on the Square that first time,” Bob says. “I lost my $50 bet. We were just amazed that virtually everything that we had, which at that time was mostly furniture, left the booth.”
One memorable memory from that day was watching one of their customers carry a walnut coffee table on his head through the square.
“We were standing there, holding the money, and it’s like . . . wow,” Bob recalls.
Shortly afterward, Bob moved away from making furniture to focus on more gift-worthy items, such as bud vases, hand mirrors and knife blocks. That’s where A Gift of Wood got its name since their products are gift items that happen to be made from wood. Bob and his wife Betsy St. Clair would pack their truck with their daughters and wares and head out to art fairs.
In those early days, A Gift of Wood was more of a hobby for Bob. He worked full-time at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for 36 years in addition to selling his items at art fairs. The revenue generated from A Gift of Wood went back to the company in the form of industrial machinery to help with Bob’s woodworking craft. Additional revenue funded a camper for family vacations and materials for his two other hobbies, game hunting and skeet shooting. Bob is also a competitive skeet shooter.
One of Bob’s wholesale customers sold his vases on a website called findagift.com, a website that no longer exists. When Bob went on findagift.com himself, he discovered WisconsinMade, which he explored further. WisconsinMade Artisan Collective is about promoting Wisconsin-based artisans like A Gift of Wood, and that is why Bob reached out to WisconsinMade founders Linda and Rick Remeschatis.
“I talked to them and sent them pictures,” Bob says. “And we just went from there.”
A Gift of Wood has been a member of WisconsinMade Artisan Collective since 2005.
For Bob, there’s always something else to do, whether it be making wood products for his small business, going hunting with his dog or being with his family. He’s long-retired from the Wisconsin DOT now, but that hasn’t stopped him from filling his days with other activities.
“I’m one of those kind of guys that can’t just sit around and do nothing,” Bob says. “I gotta be doing something.”