September 23, 2019
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From the Bronx to medicine to Maine woodworker

Scenes of potato harvests, clam digging, woods and wildlife are the themes of Eddie Harrow’s woodworking. The Dedham resident’s intricate carvings have been displayed across the area in places including Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Pediatric Cancer Center, the Brewer Community School, the Penobscot Courthouse, and Congregation Beth-El.

But behind the woodcraft talent is a man whose career as a high intensity pulmonologist brought he and his wife Maxine to Maine 40 years ago, when he took a job at the Eastern Maine Medical Center. Married for 49 years, the pair of former New Yorkers are now retired with children and grandchildren living locally.

How did they get here?

“I was a lower-middle-class kid from the Bronx. That was my world,” he said, “There were no playdates. You went out on the sidewalk to play.”

New York City was Harrow’s home throughout his youth, medical school, and medical internship. His world might have stayed that way if the couple hadn’t moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1969 where Harrow worked for the Indian Health Services.

“It was my first time living outside of New York City. We had our first free standing house, our own garden, we loved it,” Harrow said.

Harrow intended to return to Manhattan for residency, but he and Maxine changed direction. Maxine leafed through a catalogue of internships and residencies around the country, looking for something more rural.

“How about Vermont?” she said.

After Harrow completed his pulmonology residency in Vermont, the Harrows knew they wanted to stay in New England. They landed in Maine. When Harrow visited Bangor and saw the brand new Grant Tower at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, he was sold.

Living outside New York for the first time was transformative, but there were other experiences that primed Harrow for country life. He spent several childhood summers at a camp in Pennsylvania, where he learned to love the outdoors. That summer camp also introduced Harrow to woodworking. He so enjoyed it that his mother made arrangements with the superintendent in their New York apartment building to let Harrow use his workshop and tools for woodworking.

One of the predominant impressions you get from Eddie Harrow in person, even now at age 71, is high energy.

“If I’m not doing, I’m not happy,” he said. “The joy is not the accomplishment but the process.” Now that he has retired from medicine, the intensity of Harrow’s life has abated, but his work ethic has not. The difference is that now he goes to work in the garage next to his house, where he has a well-equipped woodworking shop upstairs. He’s not done yet.

Everyday he asks himself a question: “What did you do today to make things worthwhile?”

Over time Harrow has kept up his wood craft with practice and occasional classes. Even more importantly, he sought out a kind of informal apprenticeship with a guy named Del Paine.

Del, who died in 2009, was the first in a series of connections Eddie made with other interested woodworkers in the region. The men, from all walks of life, started scheduling weekly get-togethers in the back of Harry’s Signs in Brewer, where they’ve been working and exchanging ideas for about 12 years now.

“It’s like a male quilting bee, but with carving tools,” said Harrow.

The group hosts a table at the American Folk Festival every summer where they sell their work, birds, kitchen items, animals. One of Harrow’s top-selling designs is an old, rumpled baseball cap carved out of wood.

Harrow told me that some of the disciplines of medicine have carried over into his woodworking like “persistence, hard work, and attention to detail.” The two arts are not as far apart as they first appear.

In the realm of woodworking, Harrow continues to seek challenges and improve his craft. He is in the process of working on a new installation for a public place that will be his largest, most ambitious project yet, and the support of his fellow woodcarvers continues to a significant support along the way. I got to see parts of the work in progress in his shop, covered in sawdust, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the details.

After that project, who knows? Whatever it is, it will come quickly to this man whose only down time is reading the Bangor Daily News cover to cover each morning.

“Once something’s done,” Harrow said, “you quickly find yourself thinking, okay what’s next?”

I’ll look forward to hearing the answer.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

 



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