Though he said he has worked with his hands since the second grade in the workshop at his family home, Baker said the label of artisan is one of the highest compliments one can give anyone who works in a creative medium.
Baker, a wood and tin craftsman from Hope, Indiana, spoke at the Venue Fine Art & Gifts on Tuesday night. He highlighted his philosophies as an artist, the journey to construct each of his wizard wands and the history behind his life as a craftsman.
Dave Colman, curator of the Venue, said he finds the wizard wands to be incredibly creative in terms of design and material used.
“I’m sure he spends an inordinate amount of time just assembling the unusual materials that go into them,” Colman said. “It taps into the ‘Harry Potter’ craze, but there’s something more about them that makes them appealing — the obvious care and intricacy of the wood he uses.”
Baker spoke about material sourcing during his talk for an intimate group as the rain poured outside the gallery. He said the wands are made of a combination of wood from trees that nurture wildlife, such as fruit-bearing trees.
Other materials include stone, shell, horn and animal bone.
Each piece takes at least an hour to assemble, Baker said. The process is one of feeling the materials and deciding in the moment what will go together, starting with the handle.
“They’re always natural materials — the texture and feel of the wood dictates what pieces I want to put together,” Baker said. “I like to make them out of two parts put together, I like to join them with brass. In an homage to the ‘Harry Potter’ books, they always have a feather hidden at their core.”
The wizard and the artist are connected in a powerful sense, Baker said.
“What do wizards do? Wizards are really wise people who use their powers to order their universe for the better,” Baker said. “What do artists do? Artists are really perceptive people who, in small ways or large, order their universe so other people perceive the change.”
Baker’s knowledge of how materials should feel in the finished wand comes from his days at IU.
“I am a very tactile person,” Baker said. “When I was here at IU, I was on the fencing team. When I pick something up that is to be pointed, I expect that thing to go exactly where I want. I put these things together as if they were swords or daggers.”
The finished wands are spray lacquered and sold across the country. Baker said he has made 400 to 500 wands in the course of his career — some to sell, some to give to children of friends. Baker said he receives calls from across the country from recepients of his crafted wizard wands.
The Venue is currently displaying a variety of the distinctive wooden wands.
Baker said his work gives him what his long career in law never could — the opportunity to enjoy himself every day.
“My hobbies turned themselves, inadvertently, into a livelihood,” Baker said. “If I planned this, I would have botched it because I have a track record of planning things, forcing them into corners they don’t want to go into, and it never has worked well for me. I ended up being placed by some unseen hand into a position where I can have fun every day.”
In terms of artist versus artisan, Baker said the difference lies in what the work they do sets out to accomplish. While artists can often change hearts and minds, Baker said his work serves a practical purpose.
“I know at this advanced number of years that I am an accomplished craftsman,” Baker said. “If I hear just a few notes of Mozart, my mood is changed by it. I am moved profoundly by music. I can’t tell you that any chandelier I made ever did that.”
Colman said, despite Baker’s contradictions, he considers the wizard wands and Baker’s other work well within the realm of art.
The meticulous nature of Baker’s work in such pieces as his tin sculpture also show great attention to detail and craftsmanship, Colman said.
“He’s someone who will grab onto something and raise it to a new level of quality,” Colman said. “You just don’t see that in the ordinary, if there is such a thing as an ‘ordinary wand.’ Those are not ordinary wands.”