By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
After retiring from a 35-year career in woodworking, Jeff Selke is doing just that: more woodworking. He found a passion for it in high school and hasn’t looked back since.
In high school, Jeff took metal and woodworking classes and was always partial to the wood classes. “I’ve always loved the woodwork,” he said. “I love the grains of the wood, and I love working with them. They’re more forgiving than metal I think.”
In the years following high school, Jeff moved to Iowa for 3 years to pursue an apprenticeship at The Amana Colonies. There he learned a great deal and built furniture that was sold to people around the world.
Other than his time in Iowa, Jeff has spent most of his life in the city of Peoria. He worked at Peoria Cabinet, Jumer’s Castle Lodge, and Rothan Millwork Co. doing various types of work, which brought along familiar projects as well as new challenges. He continued making furniture, but also took on architectural projects.
After a long career in the Peoria Area, Jeff has found that his true passion is in building custom furniture and creating one-of-a-kind wooden bowls. “I’ve always loved building furniture,” he said. “I’ve always loved working with my hands.”
Letting his creativity run free has been the biggest change for him in retirement, where there is no limit to what he can create. “After I retired I really wanted to get more into the art side of it,” he said. “I want to really try to do some more unusual things… And that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
Although he has no background in art, he frequently finds himself thinking like an artist and being inspired by the smallest things, often creating as he works. Rarely does he have a set, technical, drawn-out, plan of what he wants to make, he just creates it in his mind before he sets to work and changes it as he goes.
“I have a whole doodle pad full of things to do yet, that I haven’t done yet,” said Jeff. “I don’t know if I’ll ever end up running out of things to do. There’s always something to do, either a bowl to turn or a piece to build.”
Putting the last touches on a project is what really seems to put him in awe each time he finishes a piece. “There’s nothing better than to put a finish on a project and get to see the way the grains actually are going to show,” said Jeff. “Sometimes it’s just so amazing when you hit it with some lacquer, the way the grain will raise up and the color will totally change on it, and you’re saying, ‘wow.’”
Finding a home for each of his pieces once they’re finished is one of his favorite parts of the trade. “Knowing somebody else loves it as much as I do… I think that’s why I do it, more than anything,” he said.