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Marquetry making a new mark as art

Most of us, when we hear the word "marquetry," think of inlaid wood floors or perhaps wood furniture with inlaid designs. But Jim Galanda's marquetry is something altogether different - an art form to be hung on a wall.

Visit his home, and you'll immediately notice the striking images that crowd his walls. There are landscapes, floral still-lifes, rural scenes and Indian portraits.On first glance, you'd say they were paintings. But closer examination proves that everything in these framed pictures is made of wood - some pieces so tiny that they are little bigger than splinters.

Galanda has been involved in marquetry for more than a decade, and he fears that the painstaking craft is going the way of the dinosaur.

"It's a lost art, and it may be a dying art," said Galanda, who notes that the Marquetry Society of America, to which he used to belong, declared itself defunct last December due to declining membership.

Galanda, who lives in Pacific Grove, Calif., said he's talked to a number of people and offered to teach it to them, but hasn't had any takers so far.

Marquetry, a handicraft hundreds of years old and first popularized in Europe, takes time and attention. Galanda said he only completes three to four pictures a year because of the detail work involved.

He's now creating a picture of hummingbirds approaching a blossom, based on a picture he saw in a magazine.

His small but tidy workshop has room for the thin pieces of special wood that he used, as well as the tools - mainly Exacto knives - necessary for the job.

The wood, which he orders through catalogs, is from Italy. Some is dyed, a special process that goes all the way through the wood, Galanda said.

Blue ribbons cover the workshop walls - most from the California Carvers Guild - for prizes won in their competitions.

Galanda recently joined another marquetry group, the Marquetry Society, which is based in London. The craft continues to be more popular in Europe than in America, he said.

Galanda, who retired from the aerospace industry in 1983, hasn't sat around much since leaving the business world.

While a resident of San Marcos in Southern California, he lived just a stone's throw from the local community college.

"I took a woodcarving class, and it was OK," said Galanda, 84. "Then I took oil painting. I'd never touched a brush before."

So Galanda began to paint, mostly rural scenes.

But then he discovered marquetry, and found it was a way to combine the two disciplines.

At a crafts fair, he met a woman who was displaying her marquetry work. He signed up with her for classes and took two at her home.

He would have taken more, but "she went on vacation, and she never came back," Galanda said with a chuckle.

He struck out on his own, and found a chapter of the Marquetry Society of America in Anaheim and began attending the monthly meetings. He learned from other members and began trying techniques on his own.

Galanda often models his designs after paintings, photographs or postcards he has seen. Those containing colored wood resemble paintings; others use a variety of wood tones for a different effect. Still others, using light and dark woods, look like pen-and-ink drawings.

Once he cuts the pieces and puts it together, he then gives the picture six or seven coats of polyurethane to protect it.

He never sells his work. He often gives it to family members or friends; his own personal collection he has shared through local exhibits, such as the one he had last fall at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

These days, Galanda said, the marquetry you see at crafts fairs may not be hand-crafted. Laser-cut marquetry is often what is displayed, and it's certainly less expensive than buying the old-fashioned kind. But it's not the same, he said.

"It's like any art," he said. "It has to be looked at and appreciated."