Poppy Lowe’s Masterpiece

Poppy Lowe’s Masterpiece
By Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Abram Lowe
Abram Lowe, known by most people as Abe or Uncle Abe, was born in Shoal Harbour, Trinity Bay in 1901. His father was John Lowe, who had moved his family from Hants Harbour to Shoal Harbour in the late 1800s. Abram Lowe is known as Poppy Lowe to me because he became my father-in-law and consequently my children’s grandfather. Our children cherished their time spent with Nanny and Poppy in Newfoundland.

Mr. Lowe was a telegraph operator with the railway, but he always had a very special and creative hobby throughout the years. That hobby was wood-working, done with loving care in his small workshop, just behind his house. Everyone in the family has some special piece of work done by Poppy Lowe.

However, there was one unique project that Poppy worked on, and for a myriad of reasons it took years to finish. When he was a very young man he started, just from a plan in his mind, an inlaid table with woods from all over the world. He had almost finished the tabletop when the Great Depression swept over the land, and his project had to be set aside until there was more work and more money available. That certainly was not there for the asking during the Depression. A tiny photograph of the tabletop has 30 written on the back, and we believe that to mean it was 1930 when the table was stored and Poppy sought work to help keep the family going. He rode out the hardship of the Depression, and shortly after those years in 1935, he married a young school teacher named Dora Noseworthy from Harbour Grace, NL. He worked with the railway, raised three children, and the years flew by while the tabletop patiently waited for the touch of the carpenter’s hand.

Poppy’s skill with woodwork was well known and he made coffins, candlesticks, trays, vases, and all sorts of wonderful pieces of art. The process of watching a block of wood become a skilled work of art is fascinating, and anyone would be thrilled to own one of Poppy Lowe’s creations. He loved the smell, the touch, and the time that he spent working with wood. His finished product showed the love that went into everything that he created.

In due time, after retiring, it was time to get back to work on the table that had been waiting all those years to be completed. What a work of art it was and is! I have the old piece of cardboard on which Nanny Lowe kept the record of the many types of wood that Poppy inlaid into the table. Hundreds of pieces, some as small as the top of your smallest finger, were carefully inlaid, and the work was done with the greatest of pride. He said he would finish his table, and he did.

Poppy Lowe visits the mountaintop
The completed work is sensational, and now belongs to the boy that played in the workshop while Poppy worked. The spectacular piece of art was left by his grandfather to John David Lowe, who cherishes his heritage. The table is still here in Newfoundland, but someday John will move it to his own home far away.

On the back of an old cereal box is written the many kinds of wood that make up the hundreds of pieces in Poppy’s exceptional table. Juniper, Birch and White Pine from Newfoundland, Maple and Poplar from Nova Scotia, Avodine, Bubinga, Rosewood, and Mahogany from West Africa, Ebony and Padouk from India, Purple heart from Dutch Guiana, and Satinwood of Ceylon. Holly, Walnut, Oak, and Redwood he obtained from the United States, Teak he managed to procure from Burma, and there is even Taiwan Pine in the finished product. Of course representing Canada again is the British Columbia Fir, and Australia is represented by the Lacewood that is so attractive. Somewhere in those little pieces of inlaid wood is also Honduras Mahogany.

When funds were available, he ordered his wood from a supply place in the United States. When it arrived he would lovingly rub it with his weathered hands as he proudly displayed his newest prize piece of wood that he couldn’t wait to start working with and putting in a special spot on his marvellous design.

Gradually people began to take interest in the work of the master craftsman, and the table became more widely known and of great interest to his peers and the townspeople.

The completed masterpiece, click to enlarge

Finally it was finished! He would joke that it took “forty-five years to make a table” but was indeed very proud when it was admired, and one could not help but admire it, even to this day. The patience, time, pride, and perfect craftsmanship that are in that piece of work by Poppy Lowe became a news story, and people came to see the work he had done, and in due time the CBC interviewed him about this glorious masterpiece.

Sadly, the night the CBC profiled him and his work, Poppy was very ill and in an Intensive Care Unit. He did not see the televised interview. His daughter recorded it, but I still am unable to watch it. Abram Lowe, Abe, Poppy, and “Master of Wood” passed away shortly after the interview aired.

But what a legacy he left! John Lowe has ownership of the table, as its builder wanted it to be, and John’s sister has another table made by the same hands.

The pride of accomplishment, the years of work, the work of art done by hard-working hands, is still talked about, and it is not unusual for us to be asked, “Whatever happened to that wonderful table Abe built?”

Nobody has forgotten the remarkable work by a wonderful man that had a gift, a gift that could turn wood into amazing artistic works.

Poppy’s shed is still standing in Shoal Harbour, and I can feel the presence of Poppy when I stand at his workbench where he spent so many hours looking out over the garden and the bay, creating works of art that live on in the family.

I will keep the memory of Poppy working in his workshop. I don’t need a video to remind me of his twinkling eyes, his laughter, and his kindness and friendship to a young nursing student who came home with his son, and eventually became his daughter-in-law. This daughter-in-law who misses one of the best friends she ever had, a father-in-law who laughed with her, dried her tears, and taught her about the love of woodworking. His tradition lives on in our hearts, especially when we smell freshly cut wood, or look at one of his precious works of art that will be treasured forever.

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe is a retired Registered Nurse living in Shoal Harbour, Newfoundland, passionate about photography, writing and her family. She has two grown children and one granddaughter, who all live too far away from her in Alberta. She writes for local magazines and newspapers, Releasing Times, Medhunters.com, Tidespoint.com, and various writers groups and publications. An anthology of short stories called Up Til Now is available through www.shopdownhomer.com or directly through her. “To share my work gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”