During the day, Andrew Garner of Corvallis works in “a sea of mud,” as he says, at the Simplot plant in Halsey, preparing liquid fertilizer for farmers.
But in his spare time, he uses his hands to produce works of beauty.
Since his teen years, Garner’s great passion has been woodworking. “I love working with wood very much,” he said. He spent several decades producing nature carvings, including a life-size praying mantis on a flower, a tableau of a coral reef and a detailed scene of a forest floor. All these were produced “with a Dremel and a magnifying glass,” he said.
But eventually he started getting burned out on nature scenes. Wooden game boards came to mind as something he could turn his hand to. Because Garner loves history, he realized he could research ancient games and produce boards for playing them.
“Every game is 1,500 years old, minimum,” Garner said. “I use games which are extremely old and have history. I can teach history and the game at the same time.”
Garner pieces the boards together using various types of imported wood, so each board is one of a kind. When finished, each game board is accompanied by game pieces — usually beads purchased at Northern Star in Corvallis, in the shape of elves or flowers or animals — and a laminated card with the rules of the game on one side and its history on the other.
Garner likes the fact that he has produced something useful. “People can sit down and visit and play a game they’ve never heard of,” he said. “It kind of brings people together. The game acts as a stimulus to get people to sit down together and interact.”
One of the games for which Garner has made boards is senet, from ancient Egypt. “When they opened up King Tut’s tomb, they found six senet boards with the pieces,” he said.
Researchers discovered that senet became popular due to a brilliant marketing plan. The ancient Egyptians believed that “when you die, you meet the guy who’s going to take you across the river into the afterlife,” Garner said. “You have to play him at senet. If you win, you get on board the boat to the afterlife. If you lose …” Of course, this belief motivated the Egyptians to practice playing senet so they’d be good enough to beat the boatman when they died.
Garner has produced a game board for the Royal Game of Ur, one of the oldest games in existence, first played in Mesopotamia around 4,000 years ago. He has also made a board for the game patolli, a forerunner of pachisi (known in America under the brand name Parcheesi) first played in Mesoamerica.
Pegasus Gallery in downtown Corvallis carries some of Garner’s games. As the patolli board is very complex, consisting of 75 tiny pieces of different types of wood from around the world, the price is around $200. His other games run in the neighborhood of $30.
Garner doesn’t like to make items to order. “The enjoyment completely disappears,” he said. “I want to make what I want to make.”
And making money from his works of art is not Garner’s priority. He just enjoys sitting at his roll-top desk of an evening with a handsaw and a Dremel power tool.
“It’s just me and the game board,” he said. “All the lights are off except for the desk lamp, and the radio’s on. All my problems disappear. It’s such a nice distraction from everything that’s going on. It’s just you and your wood; everything else vanishes.”
Garner also makes wall crosses from imported wood. A recent flight of fancy inspired him to create a 110-volt junction box with a plug, wires and conduit all made of wood. “There’s a bird nest next to the plug with two eggs in it,” he said.
Garner has no special reason for the beauty he produces. “It’s just what I do,” he said.