The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Sheridan Preston

Added to museum: January 7, 2016

Award winning wood carvings—from birds to ships

Sheridan Preston as a boy working on his pedal car and later on as a young man. (Click on either photo to view a larger image.)

From lunch projects in the basement to professional carvings

by Lynn Preston (daughter)

Born 10 months before Black Tuesday’s stock market crash, Sheridan Alois Preston came into the world on January 18, 1929.  Born and raised in Milwaukee, by his parents Estelle Jakubiak and Alois (Ptak) Preston, both 1st generation Polish immigrants.  Sheridan lived in the south side of Milwaukee, where his father, an auto mechanic, gave him a corner of the basement to tinker and build things. He also worked with his father in the garage, Al’s Service Station, fixing cars.

He joined the air force, Feb. 17, 1947, right after he turned 18 and was stationed at Chanute Air force Base in Illinois.  Sargent Preston completed the prescribed course of instruction in Air Training Command specializing in airplane power plant mechanic and jet engines.  At Keesler Field in Mississippi, Private 1st Class Preston completed training as a primary airplane engine mechanic.  He knew airplanes, inside and out and this inspired his later building of model planes.  He served his time and was released in February of 1950, went back to Milwaukee and married Gloria Bilicki in December of that year.

Sheridan started his career at Hotpoint where he inspected incoming Air Force property and equipment.  His superior described him as “precise and highly technical whenever a serious problem arises and /or whenever a responsible decision is required of him.”  He left Hotpoint in 1960 to take a job in industry at Centralab, the Electronics Division of Globe-Union.  He became the Manager of Equipment Maintenance Engineering.   From 1964-1968 he worked as the Manager of Manufacturing Engineering for Capacitors.

Teaching engineering and use of tools

While at Hotpoint and Globe Union, he also went to school at Milwaukee School of Engineering and became a teacher at the school, giving lectures for a variety of classes including hand-power tools, gas and arc welding, engineering and plant layout and material handling. 

On March 1, 1969, he terminated his job at Globe-Union to take a job a Milwaukee Chaplet in New Berlin.  The family had moved out of Milwaukee in 1967 into a duplex in the Town of Brookfield while waiting for a brand new house to be built on property that he and his wife, Gloria had purchased years before.  It was a couple of wooded acres with Poplar Creek along the back edge.  Having always wanted to be an architect, he worked to help design a beautiful house, and built a gazebo in the back yard. 

At Milwaukee Chaplet he went from being a Manufacturing Manager to Executive Vice President of Milwaukee Chaplet and Canadian Fanner Co, Ltd. in Ontario, Canada.  He retired from Chaplet in 1984 and then he and Gloria moved to North Carolina for a couple of months, finally settling in the Greenville area of South Carolina in 1986.

Lunch projects in a basement shop lead to carving birds as a hobby and then a business

During his last years of work at Chaplet, he would come home from lunch and work on projects in his basement shop. He built reproductions of cannons and airplanes and ships. He restored old woodworking tools that had belonged to his dad and grandfather and restored an old corn planter. He designed and built stained-glass lamp shades and in 1983 he started sculpting and carving wild fowl as a hobby.  When asked why he started carving, he said he needed something to do in retirement. It became a full time business called “Sculptures and Designs in Wood”.

Preston created his sculptures with blocks of wood using power tools for carving, a high-powered grinder for texturing and a wood burning technique to make the feathers.  They are painted with acrylic paints.  One decoy can take 50 to 100 hours. He made a life-sized Canada Goose which took 200 hours.  “My interest in working with wood began with building model ships.”  Then he started carving decoys.  “I found I really enjoyed trying to duplicate nature to the finest detail. When it looks as if it could fly, it’s finished.”

Sheridan Preston with some of his carved Santas. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Puzzles and Santas for the kids

He also carved puzzles and toys for his children and grandchildren, designed and made chip-carved plates and every Christmas for about 10 years, made a different series of Santas for Gloria and each of his 3 children. Some were carved from Cypress knees that he had collected in Mississippi and the figures emerged from the forms of the knees.

Wood Duck Hen, standing—Basswood on log base with some of Mr. Preston's award ribbons. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Award winning bird carvings

He showed his sculptures in many shows and between October 1985 and April 1995, he won over 30 awards for his bird carvings.  He won first place in the Badger State Carvers Show, 1985, for his Canadian Goose carving, first place in the Louisiana Wildfowl and Collectors Show, 1989, for his Blue Bill carving and  an honorable mention in the 1986 World Champion Wildfowl Carving Competition at Ocean City, Maryland for his Snipe.  There were 850 carvers and a total of 2,037 birds entered in the 1986 World competition!  He won in the novice category since he had just started carving 3 years earlier.

Preston also shared his knowledge with other carvers. He started a carving club in South Carolina and taught carving at Greenville Tech. Some of his students have gone on to win at “World”. 

In addition to being a great carver, he was also a great record-keeper.  Each of his carvings has a wood burned number, signature and date on the bottom.  Some also include a title.  He has a book with all of his carvings documented beginning with #1000, 8/83, Bufflehead to #1256 Santa Cypress Knee, 12/20/10. 

Sheridan Preston in 2013. (Click on \photo to view a larger image.)

Unfortunately, Sheriton Preston had a major stroke in 2008; which made it really hard to do the fine carving that he loved.  Being a perfectionist, anything less than perfect was not really an option.  He attempted a few things but gave up carving and ship building in December of 2010.

Here are some examples of Sheridan A. Preston's work.

(Click on any thumbnail photo to view a larger image.)

 Ruddy Duck miniature made from pine.
 
Wilson's Snipe—Basswood on walnut base.
Buffel Head Hen—Butternut
Carolina Wren—Basswood on manzanita base
Loon miniature—Basswood on cut and polished agate base
American Kestrel—Basswood on walnut base

Detail of Kestrel head

Bald Eagle miniature in flight—Tupalo wood on manzanita and walnut base
Osprey with fish in flight—Walnut base
Biplane model
Details of biplane 6-cylinder engine and cockpit controls
B-25 Mitchell bomber
Wright Brothers flyer--the first aircraft to exhibit controlled, powered flight
Large scale F-86 Saberjet and F-80 Shooting Star models flank smaller scale models of an F-84 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, B-25 Mitchell and high wing monoplane (Stinson).
Flying Fish
Viking ship under construction and a detail of the finished model
USS Rattlesnake
HMS Victory Frigate Man-O-War with detail of copper plate and rivets on bottom. Copper was used because it helps keep the hull free from barnacles, which won't attach themselves to it that material.
Sidewheel riverboat combining steam and sail on workbench
Charles W. Morgan
City of Pekin canal barge steam ship, 1885. Originally named City of Henry, it was a horse drawn barge near Chicago. it was converted to steam in 1911 and renamed to City of Pekin, operating out of Peoria, IL linking the mississippi River to the Great Lakes.
Clipper ship Cutty Sark
Benjamin W. Latham—Grand Banks schooner built in 1902, sunk in 1943 off Puerto Rico.
USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides")
Fully rigged schooner with copper bottom
Details of schooner copper bottom
CSS Alabama—Confederate steam/sail combination sidewheel boat built in England in 1882. Sailed 67,000 nautical miles in 22 months, sunk 53 shipls, ransomed 11 before being sunk in battle vs. the USS Kearwsarge.
Harriet Lane—Combination steam/sail built in 1882
HMS Victory
7-piece chip carving puzzle
Carved octagon wooden plate "Circles and Points" pattern
Carved wooden plate "Diamonds and circles" pattern
Sheridan Preston's studio workshop
Grandson Zachary with a collection of model cannons made by Sheridan Preston—yet another aspect of his wide range of interests in carving and models.

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