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POPPY LOWE’S MASTERPIECE

Abram Lowe, known by most people as Abe, or Uncle Abe, was born in Shoal Harbour, Trinity Bay in 1901. His father, John Lowe, had moved his family from Hants Harbour to Shoal Harbour in the mid-1800s. Abram Lowe is known as Poppy Lowe to me, because he was my father-in-law. Poppy had another John Lowe in his life before he passed away, that John Lowe is my son, and Poppy’s grandson. He also had John’s sister, Heather, a little girl that he teased and laughed with every day when we were home on vacation from our other home in Nova Scotia. 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, a hobby that showed his talent for working with wood. He worked for hours in his workshop, turning out magnificent pieces of art, all made with loving care in his small workshop. Everyone in the family has some special piece of work done for them by ‘Poppy Lowe’.

However there was a unique project that Poppy started as a young man, and it took years to finish for a number of reasons. Abram had started, from his own plan, a wood inlaid table using woods from all over the world. Woods exotic and different were his delight. He had almost finished the table top 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 tabletop was stored, and Poppy sought work where he could find it, and rode out the hardship of the Depression. He eventually married a young school teacher named Dora Noseworthy in 1935, worked with the Railway, raised three children, and the years flew by while the tabletop patiently waited for the return of the touch of the carpenters hand.

Poppy’s skill with woodwork was well known, as he had made the coffins for the area around Shoal Harbour for years. He still found time to make candlesticks, trays, vases, and all sorts of remarkable pieces of art. Observing a block of wood become a skilled work of art was fascinating to watch, 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 a record of the types of wood that Poppy used to complete 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.

The project, finished in the 1970s, is awe-inspiring, and now belongs to the John Lowe that played in the workshop while Poppy worked. The very special table was inherited by our son who cherishes his heritage, and adored his Poppy Lowe.

On the back of an old cereal box is written the many kinds of wood that are inlaid in hundreds of pieces in Poppy’s exceptional table. The table has Juniper, Birch and White Pine from Newfoundland, Maple and Poplar from Nova Scotia, Avodire, Bubinga, Rosewood, and Mahogany from West Africa, Ebony and Padouk from India, Purpleheart 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 attractive Lacewood. Somewhere is the midst of all those little pieces is also Honduras Mahogany. When funds were available, Poppy would order his special wood. When it arrived he would rub it with his weathered hands as he displayed proudly his newest prize piece of wood that he couldn’t wait to start working with and put in a special spot on his masterpiece project. Gradually people began to take interest in the work of the Master Craftsman, and the table became widely known and of great interest to his peers and the townspeople.

After it was finished and people would be admiring it, Poppy would joke that it took ‘forty-five years to make a table’! However he was very proud when it was lovingly 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, admired it so much, and in due time the CBC interviewed him about this glorious masterpiece.

Sadly, the night the CBC aired the story Poppy was very ill in an Intensive Care Unit. He did not see the televised interview, but his daughter recorded it. 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 graceful works of art done by weathered and 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 talent, that could turn wood into such amazing artistic works.

Poppy’s shed is still standing in Shoal Harbour. I can feel his presence when I am near his workbench where he spent so many hours looking out over the garden and the bay, creating work that was second to none.

I think I will keep that memory of Poppy. 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, dispelled her fears, and taught her about the love of woodworking. Poppy lives on in our hearts, especially when we smell freshly cut wood, or look at a piece of his artwork that will be treasured forever.

Now a new ‘Poppy Lowe’, his son, works in the workshop, as the cycle of life continues in a little shed in Shoal Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador!


Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe.

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