Hidden nearly 40 minutes outside of Jefferson City, down winding roads marked by nearly missable signs and across an expanse of gravel that crackles under car tires lies a treasure trove of carefully crafted memories.
Among it all stood Tina Becker, tools within arm’s reach and a toothy smile on her face.
Her workshop, Tina’s Creations, 10514 Route FF in Russellville, is rather open air, with a large entrance toward the front, but a step inside fills the senses with the underlying, deep smell of wood.
Becker, a wood artist, painter and more, is in her element.
“It was a long time ago,” she started wistfully. “Back in the day when I was a little kid, I used to make the signs — you know the small town picnics? — I used to make the signs for the game booths. Everybody in the family has some kind of artistic ability — construction, woodwork or something. My family had a lumber yard, and they would have this guy come out and paint the name on the truck doors, and every time he’d come out, I’d sit there and watch him. I was just amazed how he could do that without a stencil and not make a mistake.
“He kind of got me started.”
She was about 8 or 9 years old. With full access to a lumber yard, it was only natural wood would soon become her primary art medium.
Today, her work spans a few categories, far past just the signs for game booths. There’s personalized corn hole games, family name plates and benches, and wood-burned “time capsule” boxes. Then there’s others, like the wood-burned urn with a meticulous level of detail in memory of a customer’s father or a larger piece that depicts three generations of a military family. She’s found herself writing some variation of “in loving memory” at least a handful of times, judging from the photos she has stored on her phone.
As she walked to the back of her workshop, Becker pulled out a box in the process of woodburning and skimmed her hands across the top. Two boys laugh with one another, their arms around the others’ shoulders, a fishing pole in the hand of the one on the right. To the left, above a fish hooked on the line, is a simple phrase, burned in letter by letter: “In Memory of Jacob & Dan.”
In an unfortunate event, the two boys had drowned. One jumped in to save the other, but neither made it in the end. The customer, Becker said, had ordered two boxes. When she gave her the first completed box, the customer “started crying, and we hugged it out,” Becker said.
It didn’t matter if they were in the gas station parking lot. All that mattered was that moment of comfort.
“You know, I’ve had so many people cry. It’s cool — I made something that made somebody cry,” Becker chuckled. “And you know, there’s sentimental thought behind it. It’s the memory of something or someone. Just to watch somebody’s reaction to (my art) is cool.”
Through pieces like these, her art has become a comfort, and Becker doesn’t take that lightly, pouring careful attention into every detail.
Some pieces are more challenging.
“There for a little bit, people were asking for portraits on wood,” Becker said.
Sometimes she works so long on a piece only to set it down and pass by it later after noticing another change to make. Shading often takes up a lot of her time, and while one of her favorite parts of the process, it’s counted as the hardest.
“And I can nit pick at something, and I know the person is never going to notice it, but I’ve done spent two days working on it,” she laughed.
With woodburning and similarly the glass etching she’s also done, the key is patience and a light hand. The first round is the initial sketch, and each step adds depth and detail. Much of it, Becker said, is pacing.
As an artist, she knows what it means to spend so long on a piece that she becomes attached, if even just a little. Thankfully, she laughed, “they give me cash,” and it makes it easier to part. But surprisingly enough, Becker doesn’t have anything up on her walls; she either makes it to sell or gives it away.
“I don’t know what I want,” she laughed.
For now, she has her hands full anyway.
Her journey with art didn’t include an art degree, and it’s not often that pyrography is seen in galleries. But one place Becker can be sure her art will make it to is in homes and with families. And for young artists seeking to join the community, Becker encouraged them to treat their art as its own entity: Don’t compare your art or else you’ll always find someone seemingly better than you.
She added, “don’t let anyone intimidate you.”