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Meet The Benjamin Franklin Of Wood Art

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NEW HOPE, Pa. (WLVT) This week, PBS39's Culture Shock segment is featuring the work of a New Hope-based artist who creates unique designs on wood using electricity.

Rob McAllister is the owner of Angry Nimbus Woodcraft in New Hope. He creates unique designs on wood through a technique called fractal burning. McAllister calls it “capturing lightning.”

"It’s kind of like using science to make something cool," McAllister told PBS39.

Fractal burning is a process that creates images on wood using high-voltage electricity. McAllister stressed that the work is dangerousand should not be tried at home.

"I know quite a bit about electricity and electronics from working as a mechanic and from studying physics in college," he said. "I’m versed in electrical theory, and I have a healthy respect for electricity. Every time I come out here, I know there’s a possibility that I may get zapped."

McAllister says he's took several courses before launching his business last year. He says he’s always had an interest in science.

"If you had a science teacher who did a Jacob’s Ladder experiment in class, then you’ve seen how an electrical spark travels up two conductors and gets wider as it goes apart. That’s very similar to what I’m doing here," he explained. "The figures or designs that I create are called Lichtenberg figures, and they were discovered in the 1800s by an Austrian physicist. He was doing high-voltage static electricity work and he noticed that the dust on his machines would settle into these types of patterns."

Surrounded by sprawling cornfields on the farm where he lives in Bucks County, McAllister says nature is his biggest inspiration.

"The patterns and designs that I make are just like the ones we see everywhere throughout nature. It looks like a lightning bolt, a tree branch, rivers and estuaries, the veins in your circulatory systems or the neurons in your brain, and they form these types of patterns," said McAllister.

He says every burn is different.

"I work with a variety of woods and the conditions under which I’m performing the burns vary. It’s impossible for me to make the same thing twice, which is what I love about it! I never know what I’m going to produce until it’s done," he said.

He started by making wall art, and is now bringing his designs to furniture. He also makes cutting boards, custom bottle openers and wrist rests for computers.

"I’ve made and sold over 100 of these wooden wrist rests for computers! I’ve sold them all over the world. It’s exciting and makes me so proud that people from places like Japan enjoy my work," said McAllister.

At his workbench, McAllister says he likes to go with the flow.

"Whatever happens with the burn itself, even if it’s not what I expected, I just try to incorporate it into the piece itself. I don’t think too much about it, I just let it happen," he said.

He shared this advice for aspiring artists: "You have to keep chasing your passions. For me, it took 35 years for me to get to the point where I realized what I really liked to do. So, don’t wait. Jump right into it."

Support The Artist: Visit the Angry Nimbus Woodcraft website and Facebook page.

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