Wood carver Bob Benson will be the speaker at the next Allied Arts “Art Talk,” scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, May 17, in the Conference room at Cambria Center for the Arts, 1350 Main St. Benson will speak on how a trip to Pohnpei, a small island in Micronesia, led to his creation of jewelry, bowls and much-collected buttons that have become a full time occupation.
In 1982, Benson installed a running water system for a remote village of about 300 people on the island. In appreciation, the village chief gave him a bag full of palm seeds and told him, “This is the only place in the world where these trees grow.”
About 12 species of vegetable ivory palms grow in the world, but these on Pohnpei (Metroxylon amicarum) have the largest, hardest seed of all.
Benson has been working with the nuts ever since, learning how to carve them while teaching the villagers how to harvest the palm properly and build drying sheds to air-dry the seeds. He brought them back to the Central Coast and experimented with making little bowls and salt and pepper shakers, then jewelry beads, and then large 1½- to 2½-inch buttons, some of which he embellished with mother of pearl, ammonite, tiger-eyes and feathers.
Avid button collectors discovered Benson’s work at a carvers’ show and ordered 100 buttons. He has been going to button shows across the country ever since.
The National Button Society of the USA invited Benson to give a presentation at its annual conference in 2013. He will give a similar presentation in Cambria.
The public is welcome to attend the talk. Admission is free for Allied Arts members; a $3 donation is asked of nonmembers.