At age 96, Blanco resident Vernon Schmidt is the type of person who can never retire. After decades of working as a cabinet and furniture maker, Schmidt still tucks himself away each day in his garage workshop, creating artistic treasures out of even the most ostensibly marred piece of wood that most people would simply toss in the trash heap or fireplace.
Well-known for his woodworking skills, Schmidt has turned his craft into an art form. Wood is his palette and a scroll saw is his artistic tool of choice.
“I look at a piece of wood and have a vision of what it wants to be,” Vernon said. “I don’t see what others call scrap. I see the end product — a cane, a toy, an ornament or plaque. I see the possibilities.”
One day, as he glanced down at a piece of wood lying on the garage floor and looked up at an old Blanco area booklet that lay on a shelf, his mind’s eye saw a wooden version of one of Blanco’s treasured pieces of history — a replica of the Old Blanco County Courthouse.
It took several months, but Vernon painstakingly cut thousands of intricate pieces of wood to mimic each limestone slab, door, window and other details needed to build his version of the Courthouse. Just as the stonemasons built the real Courthouse, limestone slab by slab, Vernon laid and glued his carefully crafted, hand-sanded wooden pieces and built his Courthouse replica.
As Vernon built his Courthouse, his mind flooded with memories of the historic building. Born in the Blanco area in 1914, on Crabapple Creek Road, Vernon remembers when the Courthouse housed the Blanco National Bank.
“As a young boy, I would go into town with my father,” Vernon reminisced. “I remember the well outside the bank. I still recall how we would drop the bucket into the well and use the pulley to bring up that cold, refreshing water. To this day I remember how good it tasted, and how impressive the Courthouse building was to me.”
During its long history, the Old Blanco County Courthouse has served many purposes: courthouse, school, bank, museum, barbecue restaurant, and hospital.
“My children were born in that building,” Vernon said, using his replica to point out the location of each room utilized by his family. “In 1940, my daughter Joyce was the second girl born in that hospital. Doris was born there in 1943.”
The Courthouse is important to Vernon in many other ways, too. His woodworking skills are on display inside the building. He helped to rebuild the back staircase that leads to the second floor.
“I remember having to re-create the curvature of the hand railing, making sure it fit the curve of the stairs and was smooth to the touch for people using the stairway,” Vernon explained.
Talent runs deep in the Schmidt family. His daughter Doris Phipps is also a wood artisan, crafting unique crosses that feature scrollwork, animals, or nature scenes. While wood speaks to Doris as it does to her father, Doris stated that she wished she could tap into Vernon’s brain and share what she describes as God-given visions. Hilda, Vernon’s wife of 72 years, is a seamstress who is well known in the area for creating beautiful wedding dresses and quilts. Just as Vernon refuses to throw away a piece of wood because of its possibilities, Hilda can’t discard unused cloth.
“I may find a use for the cloth scraps some day,” Hilda said. “I recently pulled out some old shirting material that I kept from the early days before I married Vernon. I’m now using it to create a quilt that has historic memories for me.”
Vernon has no plans to stop wood-working any time soon. He is currently working on a second Courthouse replica. This one will be more portable, enabling Vernon to take it with him and give a Blanco County lesson on times gone by to any willing history buff.
For more information on Vernon Schmidt’s handcrafted creations, contact his daughter Doris Phipps at 830-833-4177.