ZANESVILLE – Wilbur Mock doesn’t really consider himself an artist.
His son Doug would say his woodturning trade deserves a more meaningful description than “retirement hobby”. For anyone looking at polished wooden vases, bowls and plates, the person who made the pieces would likely be worthy of the artist title.
Some of his iconic works are now on display in an exhibition at the Zanesville Museum of Art.
But for “Wib”, the founder of Mock Woodworking, it’s just something he loves to do.
“I don’t draw great pictures,” said Wib, 91. “I just learned to put things together.”
While not without years of learning the inner workings of woodworking, building skills across the industry, and managing the Zanesville-based company, which has become internationally recognized for its know-how in large and small-scale carpentry projects.
Although Wib has learned the trade and learned it well, he attributes it to the people around him – his family, mentors, and others who have helped him along the way.
A humble life as a carpenter
Wib was born on a farm in Sonora in 1930. If you ask him, it was in very different times.
There was no electricity on the farm. You bought some hardware at a hardware store and the word software didn’t even exist, as he described it in his book “The Mock Family”.
He was 13 when he developed rheumatic fever. “And it changed my life.”
“In fact, the doctor told me that I could never work like other men,” he recalls. “Well that has changed.”
At first he couldn’t contribute much on the farm until his father encouraged him to try. It turned out he could work, he said, and he continued on the farm until he wanted to try something new: woodworking.
He approached an Amish carpenter in northeast Ohio named Sam Schrock. Wib said he would work without pay if Schrock hired him. Skeptical, Schrock ended up paying him anyway, and Wib quickly learned the ropes by helping him make dressers, beds, church furniture, and benches.
He then studied architectural design at an institute in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After working for someone else for a while, he started Mock Woodworking in 1954.
The business started out as an individual carpentry shop in Zanesville. The little savings he accumulated was used to purchase a small amount of machinery. Eventually the business grew.
Craftsmen specialize in cabinet making for homes in and around Muskingum County. The business has grown. So he hired one person, and he hired another. When Doug started in 1983, Mock Woodworking had about 15 employees.
Some of the larger businesses were complete housing estates, including the Ash Meadows development off Frazeysburg Road. The company also had smaller projects, like partnering with Longaberger to make pieces for its collections.
“It was a success, but not a huge success,” Wib said of his business at the time. Although his son does not agree.
The business once housed in the humble Zanesville Carpentry Shop now has a 46,000 square foot facility.
Learn a new profession when you retire
Wib credits much of what he’s learned to others around him. His father taught him the basics of mechanics and Sam Schrock helped him build his craft from scratch as a young man. His wife, June, kept the company’s accounts for nearly three decades.
“She was great, she still is. She put up with me,” he joked.
He also credits what the company has become – having clients like Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle and many higher education institutions – to his son Doug.
After retiring in the 1980s, he embarked on woodturning on his own. He learned the trade through reading, trial and error practice and a few seminars.
It all started with a wood lathe that Doug gave him for Christmas one year. Something he overlooked, however, was how difficult it would be to get the right kind of wood for turning. One of his earliest sources was a local pruner who gave him leftovers.
“When I started I thought it was terrible – I went to talk to everyone,” he said. “I took whatever I could get.”
When he was able to get what he wanted, he used his favorite cherry. He eventually learned more complex turning techniques which allowed him to use more than one type of wood.
“The way the wood grows is a big part of the shoot,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the way I turn it, but the wood itself has a lot of effect on the result.”
But it wasn’t something he just did in his spare time. Eventually, his woodturns made it to strangers when he started volunteering at the Works Museum in Newark, and his pieces went to the gift shop.
Now his work is not for sale. It’s on display in an art museum exhibit, something he said he didn’t expect to see.
“You see all these drawings and things in the museum, it’s my art there,” he said, pointing to the showcase of his woodturns.
The Wood-Turned Artistry of Wilbur C. ‘Wib’ Mock exhibit is now on view at the Zanesville Museum of Art. The museum is located at 620 Military Road. For more information on the exhibit, call 740-452-0741.