Fascination with wood turns couple to usable art

By Jim Winnerman, Special to the Light

This is the first of an occasional column about Jewish artists in the St. Louis area who are actively selling their work. Jay and Sherry Phillips, lifelong St. Louisans and members of Congregation B’nai Amoona, create and sell their woodworking art through their business, J&S Turnings. Sherry Phillips spoke with the Jewish Light about their art.  

Sherry, how would you describe the art you and Jay make?

We create unique, custom pens and bottle stoppers.  All our pens are made on a lathe.  Some are made out of exotic woods, while we create others from resins we mix to create distinctive designs. In addition, on some pens we embed vintage postage stamps within the pen body before applying a clear cast mold over the stamps. Then we shape the pen body on the lathe.

How did you both get interested in woodworking?


Jay grew up watching his father build things and has a natural ability to visualize, design and create with wood. He has been an avid woodworker for over 35 years and has an extensive collection of power tools he has used to build everything from furniture to toys.

About eight years I became enthralled with being able to create art from the richness of raw wood, and Jay taught me how to use the lathe to make pens. The unusual patterns and beauty wood possesses with its lush grains and colors fascinates me. Now we each have our own lathe and both make pens and bottle stoppers.

Do either of you have a background in art?

No. Jay went to school for a business education, and I have a degree in social work. We take private lessons in woodworking and teach ourselves through researching, watching tutorials and networking with other woodworkers. Our work is always evolving.  

Where do you get ideas for your work?

For our wood pens, we study the wood, its color, grain and any unusual markings.  Then we match the pen style and hardware to it. 

We also custom mix colorful resins in order to enhance the beauty of the pen hardware or to create themed pens. We have pens that are patriotic, Celtic, Victorian, Industrial era, Art Deco, just to name a few. We also embed stamps within the pen body, such as Federal Duck Stamps and Disney stamps. 

The metal hardware we add to each pen can be elaborate and includes antique pewter, copper, brass, gunmetal, gold and chrome. Our Art Deco pens have Swarovski crystals on their clips. Patriotic pens have bald eagles and flag hardware. Southwest pen hardware incorporates a desert mesa flower accented by turquoise or red coral cabochon bands. 

How many hours a week do you work?

Jay still works full time as a self-employed IT consultant setting up and maintaining small-business servers. As a retired hospital social worker, I am able to spend more time woodworking. Combined, we spend from two to six hours a day about two to five days a week woodworking. When we have a large special order, we tend to work every day.

How much does your work sell for and where is it sold? 

It goes from $15 to $200. Our work is sold at Tobakko’s gifts for men in Chesterfield, the St. Louis Zoo gift shop, Ylang-Ylang fine jewelry (in Ladue), and Chalily Pond &  Gardens (in Manchester). Last year we were invited to be a vendor at the Botanical Garden’s Best of Missouri Market, and we have been invited back this October. We also sell through our website, jsturnings.com.

We donate 5 percent of every sale to the Cancer Support Community of Greater St. Louis.