WALLINGFORD — Eschewing cloth and needle, a local retiree crafts bow ties from blocks of wood with a mallet and power tools.
“It’s a lot of fun. Don’t all kids like to bang things?” said Marv Beloff, 89, of Wallingford, who started the International Wooden Bow Tie Club.
Made to resemble traditional bow ties at a glance, Beloff carves folds into the wood and cuts and glues different colored woods together to create designs. He uses woods from black walnut to bamboo to vary the colors naturally.
“This is the most important tool I own,” he said, holding up a worn, dented wooden mallet before he began striking an assortment of chisels into a wood plank with it. “You can move quickly through a piece of wood” with this, he said.
Beloff became infatuated with bow ties after seeing the accessories worn to their full glory on a trip to Amsterdam. Already a wood sculptor, he began experimenting with the medium after being unsatisfied with the retail bow ties he found back home.
Now his ties are worn by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and former Meriden Mayor Michael Rohde. “I’ve made ties for people all around the world,” Beloff said.
“He’s a one of a kind individual who’s contributed a lot to our community,” Rohde said of Beloff. They were members of the Meriden Kiwanis Club together, and Rohde said he often visited Beloff’s store, Styletex Women’s Clothing in downtown Meriden.
When Rohde was mayor he would wear one of Beloff’s creations, a blue and white bow tie with a Meriden pin on it, which Rohde said he still has to this day.
“You never have to tie it, it's always perfect,” he said.
Rohde recalled Beloff once telling him wood speaks to him when he sees it, describing to him what it desired to be sculpted into. “He’s a true craftsman,” Rohde said.
A wooden banjo ukulele was fastened to the bow tie Beloff wore as he toured his home and toiled on a new tie in the workshop. A member of the band The Humble Bees, he is also a capable banjo player and singer.
The five-member band plays around 25 shows a year and has used the performances to raise over $28,000 for American Association of University Women scholarships over the decade and a half they have been playing.
Beloff’s walls are covered with his creations, which extend beyond his bow ties to include sculptures and carvings of people. His wife’s drawings and the art of his many local artistic friends also adorn nearly every surface.
“The first thing I saw was this elephant,” Beloff said of when he began carving a sculpture out of a the knotted growth on trees known as burls. The final product, the bust of a man surrounded by elephants and people, stands in one of his rooms surrounded by bow ties.
Ashlar Village allowed him to make use of its workshop as long as profits are returned to the center, as residents aren’t supposed to use the facility for commercial purposes.
A dozen styles are available on sale through his website and he also takes custom orders. On one of his handmade printer’s boxes lies a few of his bows, including the “Yes We Can” bow, which he often wore as Barack Obama ran for president in 2008.
Most of his bow ties run between $50 and $150, depending on their complexity, although some have sold for over $300 at charity auctions.
“He shares his love of music and art and sculpting” with Meriden and those around him, Rohde said.