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North Hills

Gibsonia craftsman takes people back in time

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, 1:36 a.m.
Karl Smrekar will be at Harvest Valley Farm Fall Festival in Valencia on Saturdays and Sundays through October from  9 a.m.  to 4 p.m.
Karl Smrekar will be at Harvest Valley Farm Fall Festival in Valencia on Saturdays and Sundays through October from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Karl Smrekar, 64, of Gibsonia, hand makes wooden toys such as this.
Karl Smrekar, 64, of Gibsonia, hand makes wooden toys such as this.
Karl Smrekar, 64, of Gibsonia, hand makes wooden toys such as these.
Karl Smrekar, 64, of Gibsonia, hand makes wooden toys such as these.

In a day and age when high-tech gadgets rule the world, Karl Smrekar has found that not everything has to have a screen or connect to the Internet in order to enchant children and adults alike.

Smrekar makes wooden toys and puzzles and the reaction when people find his creations at craft shows or festivals, such as the Harvest Valley Farms Fall Festival this month, can be quite touching.

“With toys come memories, maybe of something someone’s grandfather made,” said the 64-year-old Gibsonia resident and founder of Wood’n N’at. “I’ve had a couple people break out in tears because I reminded them of a relative who made them a wooden toy. It’s amazing the conversations you have”

Smrekar is a self-taught woodworker but for many years he predominantly made shelves, useful items for around the house and the occasional child’s rocking chair or gift for a special occasion. He was also a toy collector, and when he saw wooden toys at craft shows or shops he always thought in the back of his mind, “I could do that.”

A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2006 changed Smrekar’s perspective on a lot of things, he said, and he’s now semi-retired from the financial advising business and spends a great deal more time in the workshop set up in his garage.

Smrekar launched his Etsy business in 2017.

He makes vehicles, such as trains, tractors and airplanes, animals ranging from dinosaurs and dragons to cats and ducks, toys with moving parts and other items such as crayon holders and nativity scenes. The toys range anywhere from $6 for small items to $43 for a train with multiple cars, but most sell for between $10 and $16.

Smrekar also uses a nontoxic finish that’s a mixture of food grade mineral oil and beeswax on his creations.

“I don’t paint, dye or stain anything,” he said. “It’s all natural colors. Most of the time I try to find wood that matches what I’m making, so for instance there’s a red wood I use for dragons called padauk. For moose or bears I’ll use walnut because it’s brown.”

The one exception he makes are for decorations, such as the Halloween decorations which he’s started offering for the first time this year at Harvest Valley Farms.

He can complete most creations in anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, he said. Custom orders generally take about 10 days.

“Last month I had a teacher from Florida who saw the whale crayon holder and the train crayon holder and asked if I could make a manatee,” he said. “She has eight desks and she wanted to have one on each desk so I came up with a drawing, sent it to her, she approved it and I sent them three weeks ago.”

Smrekar will be at the Harvest Valley Farm Fall Festival in Valencia on Saturdays and Sundays through October from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. He also participates in local craft fairs including the Mars Area Fall Craft Show on Nov. 17 and his online store address is woodnnat.etsy.com .

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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