StThere is nothing more beautiful to Duane Wilson than an old piece of wood just calling out for a new life.
“That never gets old. It still amazes me today,” said Wilson, who has owned Wilco Woodwork, Inc. for the past 20 years. “The fact that you can take a pile of what looks like garbage and come up with something amazing is incredible.”
Whether it is a short drive around Augusta or trip to the Georgia statehouse, chances are you’ve seen some of Wilson’s craftsmanship.
“I have been doing this since I was a child. My father, Franklin Wilson, was a carpenter and I worked with him for years with Boardman Construction Co.,” said Wilson, who is originally from Aiken. “In fact, we did all of the construction at Surrey Center. He actually started that project back when it was a little grocery store.”
Wilson said his father, who passed away just last year at 83, taught him everything he knows about woodworking.
“He got me into this,” Wilson said, adding that carpentry runs in his family’s blood.
“The whole Wilson family were carpenters. My dad came from 16 kids and all of the brothers were all carpenters.”
“In fact, one of my cousins, his dad and my dad worked together for years and years and years. And now that cousin, David Wilson, has been with me for about 17 years. So we are keeping it a family thing. I couldn’t do it without him.”
When Duane Wilson left Boardman Construction Co. about two decades ago, it didn’t take long for his tremendous talent to be recognized across the South.
“About two years after going into business, I was trimming the Governor’s Mansion in South Carolina and then I went to the statehouse to do woodwork in Atlanta,” Wilson said.
“I have also done several federal courthouse projects, doing all the woodwork in those buildings.”
“But my favorite job that I have done has to be the giant theater in Memphis, Tennessee called the Cannon Center. It is the most amazing theater in the country, I believe.”
In 2003, the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts was designed to exacting acoustic standards and currently seats about 2,000 people. It was established on the same spot as the historic Ellis Auditorium, which closed in 1996 after 77 years.
“It is pretty amazing,” Wilson said, flipping through several photos of the Cannon Center. “I just recently came across these photos the other day. That was a great project. I did that job right when my wife was just about to give birth to our first child. Now, I have two daughters, one is 14 and one is going on 18, but I still haven’t taken them to Memphis to see it yet.”
Of course, as teenagers, Wilson said his daughters like to give him some good-natured ribbing about his work.
“My kids make fun of me because when we travel, I have done a lot of work around here, Atlanta and Columbia, so when we go somewhere, I’ll point at something and I’ll say, ‘I built that,’” Wilson said laughing. “Now, every time we go somewhere they are always in the background joking, ‘I built that. I built that.’ Just making fun of me.”
Sitting at one of the gorgeous wooden booths inside of Becks, Wilson said the restaurant’s owner and chef, John Beck, gave him a great deal of freedom when designing the woodwork.
“With John Beck, we got in and got started and he really allowed me to design and do everything we wanted to do in here,” Wilson said. “So that was a really nice experience.”
When Becks first opened in December, John Beck said he was simply looking to create an oyster bar with a “fun, lively atmosphere” that offered quality food and good beverages.
“I like that kind of a place. I like to go in and it not be stuffy. I like to have a little bit more activity and lively atmosphere,” Beck said. “So initially we were going to do a little more of a casual place.”
But when Wilson took on the project, he elevated the restaurant with his incredible woodwork and “creative genius,” Beck said.
“He is really talented and just completely transformed the place,” Beck said. “It just kind of took on a life of its own. It is just beautiful inside.”
In particular, Beck was floored by Wilson’s work in the back room of the restaurant that can also be rented for private events.
“There was a partition that went straight through and broke this room in half,” Wilson said, pointing along the ceiling in the back room of the restaurant. “They took the wall out, but they couldn’t take the top part of it out because these were two different ceilings and they didn’t line up because there was a wall in between. So, we had to come up with some sort of way to just roll with it and do some sort of cool feature.”
Wilson created an extravagant wood design on the ceiling and walls that is truly breathtaking.
“John wanted this room to be special,” Wilson said. “When you walk into this room, we just wanted people to be like, ‘Wow.’ So we came up with this.”
One of Wilson’s passions is designing projects with reclaimed wood.
“I recently fell in love with working with reclaimed materials. That is how this whole thing came to be,” Wilson said, looking around Becks restaurant. “I partnered up with Trent Hubbard at Highland Millworks to do several projects. Trent had just gotten in a whole bunch of this oak when I was getting ready to do this place. And John said, ‘I don’t care what you use,’ so it worked out great. I have done three reclaimed projects in a row in the last couple of months. It is really hot right now.”
However, after continuously doing several large projects, Wilson said he recently began focusing on smaller jobs around town.
“I have been working with interior designer Lauren Robbins and she has been throwing a lot of design work at me and I’m thankful for that,” Wilson said. “I also do a ton of work for Augusta Sash & Door.”
Wilson is extremely proud of the work that he has done in the Augusta area and beyond and so was his father.
“He was super, super proud of me. In fact, when he retired, he came on to help me. He was getting up in years, but he basically walked around and grumbled,” Wilson jokingly said. “But he taught me an awful lot.”
Born in Clover, S.C., Franklin Wilson moved to Graniteville after serving in the Navy during the Korean Conflict.
“He married my mom and he had a job at the mill, but this preacher at the church that they were going to was a master carpenter,” Wilson said. “He taught my dad everything he knew and then my dad ended up bringing all of his brothers to work. They built tons of houses. In fact, they built Bruz Boardman’s house and it is unlike anything else –construction wise — residential in this town. It is amazing.”
“He took great pride in his work. I learned everything from him,” Wilson said, joking that his children don’t seem interested in learning the family trade. “Well, I don’t have a son to pass it on to and, hopefully, my girls will be too smart to get into this. When they were smaller, I would take them out on jobs and do little things, but they are too cool for it now. And I have one headed to college soon. She will be studying computer science.”
While his girls might not be anxious to learn the art of woodcrafting, Wilson did, however, manage to pass down another family trait to his children: a love of music.
Franklin Wilson and his family had a singing group known as The Wilsons and One Accord.
“My family was full of musicians. I started out playing bass when I was 8 years old and I have been playing all my life,” Duane Wilson said.
“I play with several bands including Ed Turner and Number 9. I have toured with Shawn Mullins out of Atlanta and I am playing with Phillip Lee Jr. right now. He just signed a deal, so he will be going places.”
It didn’t take long for both of his daughters to catch the family’s music bug, Wilson said.
“I had an upright bass at home that I played. I told Emily, my oldest, that when the string programs became available at school, ‘Take this thing to school and play it,’” Wilson said, chuckling. “When the next little one got big enough to do it, she wanted to play bass, too. So now they are both dragging around basses twice as big as they are.”
Wilson said he absolutely loves hearing his daughters play music.
“Both of my girls are bass players and they go to Davidson (Fine Arts) or, well, the oldest just graduated but they were both in the orchestra there,” Wilson said. “So they did take that from me.”
While Wilson adores woodworking, he believes his love for music may eventually take him to somewhere like Nashville to retire.
“As I get older, I feel like I may end up in a music town where I could do session work instead of having to do such physical work like what I do now,” Wilson said, laughing. “But I still have some years in me. I’ll be turning 49 this Friday, so I’m not looking to retire anytime soon. But when I get my second child out of school, who knows? We might end up in Nashville one day.”
For more information about Duane Wilson and his company, Wilco Woodwork, Inc., please contact 706-504-8439.