By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
Jeff Embry earned himself the nickname “resume” during a long military career because he had a plethora of different training and jobs; the only thing he didn’t have time to do was relax.
After graduating from Farmington Central High School in 1990, Jeff joined the US Navy. He began working as a boiler technician, and went on to do everything from counter drug operations and law enforcement to shipboard security.
He took a short stint in the reserves and was active again before long, serving in Kuwait as the night shift watch commander and personal security at Camp Arifjan. While he was there he had the opportunity to meet Gary Sinese (star of Law and Order), Scott Stapp (lead singer of Creed), Trace Adkins (country music star), and President Barack Obama.
After transferring back to Peoria, Jeff retired on January 1, 2013. He picked up an old passion that he hadn’t had much time for during his military career—woodworking.
“I really discovered a passion for woodworking in high school,” said Jeff. “I just really loved turning stuff on the lathe, absolutely loved it. I would go around to neighbors’ houses… and find people who had old barns and scraps of wood. I would get [the wood scraps] and take them to school, sand them down, glue them together, turn them and make things on the lathe.”
He began taking time to make some artistic pieces, and now by the age of 41, Jeff has found that turning wood on the lathe is what really helps him unwind. “After joining the military, I really missed it,” said Jeff. “Then my wife got me a lathe for Christmas in 2004. That’s when I really started getting back into wood turning.”
Jeff has found a niche in the market using many exotic woods. Cocobolo, black palm, bacote, blood wood, bubinga, Indian rosewood, olive, zebra, and South American purple heart are among some of the unique woods from around the world that he likes to use. “I really love the exotic woods because there are just so many different colors and patterns,” he explained.
While he makes a variety of gift items such as pens, spice grinders, and wine corkscrew/topper combinations, his most recent focus has been making duck, goose, and deer calls for hunters.
In the near future, Jeff will release a new line of military tribute duck and goose calls, which will be featured on Adventure Sports Outdoors’ television show.
“I enjoy the woodworking, and a lot of times when I make things on the lathe the wood will decide its shape,” said Jeff. “I try to find the natural beauty in a piece.”
Some of his artistic works take on much more personal meaning. His piece entitled “Loss of a Loved One” represents the pain associated with losing someone close to you. “Red represents your heart, and a lot of us, when we feel pain or get hurt, we will put up a wall or put up our defenses to try to keep us from getting hurt again. That’s where the horns represent the defenses, and the black rose represents death.”
Jeff works out of the large back room of his gallery, Studio 825—which has a vacant upstairs with occasional mysterious creeks and voices. Jeff hopes to fill the downstairs and expand upstairs to accommodate more artists.
“I was looking for a place to do my woodworking and the opportunity for this place came up. And I thought, ‘what a great place to do my work, and to try to build a gallery,’” said Jeff. “There is a lot of talent here in this city… Artists can come together and share ideas and discuss art.”
There is currently one other artist in house, Gene Mialkowski, and art from over 20 different artists featured in the gallery. Featured pieces include photography, painting, sculpting, metalwork, pottery, stained glass, and drawing.
“The city of Peoria is trying to rejuvenate this area, and I know it’s coming,” said Jeff. “I wanted to get in here early, and try to get a foothold before a lot of the things change… try to be one of the pioneers.”
Jeff’s work can be seen at Studio 825 at 825 SW Adams St. in Peoria or on his website at www.embrycustomwoodworking.com. To learn more about Studio 825 or wood turning classes call (309) 453-8291.