Dave Shombert's first attraction to the rotating, quiet woodturning machine was in high school woodshop. He immediately realized that the lathe was unlike other woodworking machines and knew it would one day become a part of his life.
When he retired from his job as a physicist for the Food and Drug Administration, he knew that his dream could become a reality. He and his wife, Ellen, moved to Elkins in 1994 and his workshop was finally built, centered around the lathe.
Shombert didn't begin woodturning until he was 55 years old. "When the student is ready, the teacher will come," Shombert says recalling the time-honored adage.
In 1997, he met Paul Weinberger, a woodturner, patternmaker and mouldmaker in Weston, and the two participated in the Augusta folk arts apprenticeship in which a master of an Appalachian craft teaches a student, funded by the Augusta Heritage program.
"He showed me what real craftsmanship is," Shombert said, adding that the two are still good friends and frequently visit.
Shombert spends a considerable amount of time in his shop, standing over the machine that caught his attention more than 50 years ago. This model, however, is much nicer than his first. The Robust American Beauty lathe hums. Shombert directs the tool along the surface, as the block of wood transforms into a bowl, vase or hollow form. Dust and curled shavings fly from the metal-to-wood contact onto the floor and Shombert's hands. He stays concentrated on his movements; everything else fades away.
Photo by Mallory Bracken
Dave Shombert has spent many hours in his workshop sanding and carving select pieces of wood. After retirement, Shombert and his wife, Ellen, moved to Elkins where he was able to build a workshop around the piece of equipment he fell in love with in shop class.
"I'm really focused," Shombert says of his work on his lathe. "Almost as if there's nothing else in the world."
Shombert sells his pieces mostly in juried craft guilds including the Southern Craft Guild, Tamarac and Mountain Made. He says that selling to others creates a connection between him and the buyers.
"A big part of what makes life worth living is being connected to other people in some positive way," he says. "This is a small thing, but meaningful to me - to know that in some other home, people have a piece of my work and they look at it and they like it and they like to hold it in their hands."
Arlena Straw of Elkins, took home one of Shombert's pieces from the Randolph County Arts Center Gala in 2010. A wooden vase made of various woods integrated together, the piece won Best of Show.
"His workmanship is just so perfect," she says. "When you buy work of his, you know that you got an artistic and well-designed piece."
Both his father and grandfather were amateur woodworkers, introducing the concept to Shombert as a young child with a workbench, boards and nails. He credits his interest partly to this, but believes that the source is mostly innate.
"It's just part of who I am; having the ability to make something with my hands and know that it's done properly and done well."