- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

AMHERST, Va. In the world of woodworking, "parquet" usually is synonymous with "floor." Rarely does one associate the elaborate French-born technique with lamps, clocks, bowls, umbrella stands, ashtrays and key chains. Meet Mark Pendleton Campbell.

The Amherst artisan specializes in the age-old technique, in which wood pieces of varying size and color are glued together and sawed into veneer-thin slices. The result: the elaborate, multicolored wood pieces, not unlike tiles, that make up a parquet floor.

Yet though the famed floors are among Mr. Campbell's parquet creations, he also applies the technique to an impressive range of everyday items, such as vanity chests, jewelry boxes, belt buckles, humidors, musical instruments, candle stands and clocks.

Mr. Campbell also works the parquet style into an impressive line of custom-made items, such as picture frames, floors and furniture. (Shaker designs are his passion and specialty.)

Indeed, for Mr. Campbell, though parquet is his work, it also is his beloved and chosen art form. His studio-gallery on U.S. 60 in Amherst houses a collection of prize-winning parquet sculptures and crafts, many of which were inspired by his love of ancient history, mythology and legend.

"A lot of my work is inspired by my reading," he says.

Indeed, much of the work in his studio reflects a love of ancient civilizations and their histories.

Think fawn-and-cherry-colored jewelry boxes that mimic Aztec temples or sport Apache rug designs on their lids. Think statuesque sculptures that interpret ancient historical legends with their mythological icons and curvaceous serpents. Think illuminated hourglass-shaped figures in unimaginable shades of wood.

Mr. Campbell's work also can be found in Virginia churches. (He uses religious icons and symbols in the parquet technique.) He also has custom-constructed lecterns, podiums, memorials and display cases for libraries and offices.

Mr. Campbell's love for woodworking began at an early age, when a childhood illness kept him out of school for almost two years. His lengthy recovery found him fashioning ships, planes and cars from wood. Later, in his teens, Mr. Campbell worked in the building trades.

In his early 20s, Mr. Campbell was custom-designing houses and furniture. The many small pieces of various woods he accumulated led him to parquet, a process he describes as "painting with wood."

The range of color offered by so many different varieties of wood makes parquet look like a painstaking process, but it is one Mr. Campbell says he loves.

"It's a love of process and finished product," he says. "I find it hard to separate the two."

The process starts in Mr. Campbell's workshop, in what he calls his "filing cabinet," a vast collection of wood in every conceivable size, type and shade.

Mr. Campbell works with about 26 types of wood, which range from local sycamore and regional walnut to bog-colored Hawaiian koa and African zirchote.

Mr. Campbell's conservationist beliefs factor heavily into his work. Every piece of wood, however small, is used. The smallest will end up in an earring or a key chain. The larger will be fashioned into sculpture or panels for a vanity chest or table. Nothing is thrown away.

"The only things that leave this place is finished product, money and smoke," Mr. Campbell jokes.

Depending on the project, he'll select the appropriate-sized piece of wood, which he will glue together with other lengths in varying colors and widths. The resulting stack is left for as long as 24 hours while the water-resistant wood glue works its magic.

Mr. Campbell then slices the secured wood bundle. Each slice bears the hallmark of the multicolored wood pieces that compose it, much like an extravagant wood layer cake. The slices are glued onto a plywood backing and endlessly trimmed, sanded and refinished for one of Mr. Campbell's creations.

"It's kind of like writing a song," says Mr. Campbell, who also is a musician. "You want to keep it simple, but you want there to be something special about it."

It's a process he performs in an upcoming video, "All About Parquet," which the Staunton-born artist is editing and producing himself.

In the meantime, one can browse Mr. Campbell's work at Pendleton House, the workshop-gallery he shares with his wife, Diana Rhoades, a painter and stained-glass artist.

Her stained-glass creations and photography-inspired oil works can be viewed beside her husband's parquetry, as can a range of other artists' works, including jewelry and sculpture.

Prices for Mr. Campbell's parquet works range from less than $20 for belt buckles and key chains to $200 to $300 for jewelry boxes and lamps. Furniture pieces of varying sizes and functions are priced from $200 into the thousands.

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