Necessity is the mother of invention for northwest Missouri craftsman

Charlie Miller did not have a lot when he was a young boy growing up in Burlington, Iowa. As a matter of fact, he considered his family poor in that southeast Iowa town by the Mississippi River. Miller — who now calls Hamilton, Missouri, home — was born with a determined mindset that if he wanted something, he had to make it himself.

Charlie Miller standing with a wall of "inspiration" in his wood shop.

Charlie Miller standing with a wall of “inspiration” in his wood shop.

He began making little things as a child, becoming a do-it-yourselfer and developing a talent for woodworking. As a young adult, he attended a community college in Burlington for a year and a half then moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where his brother lived. Miller put his woodworking hobby on the back burner as he worked three jobs to make ends meet.

An invitation into a neighbor’s apartment to view her wedding dress resulted in Miller meeting the woman who would become his wife, Kay. Several young women were in the apartment already looking at the gown, and one of them caught his eye.

“I would like to have a date with that woman,” Miller told his neighbor.

His wish was granted; however, he was not certain his arranged date would actually be the girl he had hoped for. When he showed up on the blind date to see Funny Girl at the Midland Theater, he was pleasantly surprised to see Kay.

“I had a Firebird at the time, so that must have impressed her,” Miller jokingly declared.

Miller married that young woman, Kay, who had grown up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. They both had a desire to move away from the city and agreed to move to a small town after their first child was born. Miller, Kay and baby Jennifer moved to rural Hamilton, Missouri, where the family could enjoy the country life and be close enough for him to drive to work in the city. Miller farmed and was a firefighter, while Kay kept the home front under control as a stay-at-home mom. They had four more children: Stephanie, Leslie, Matthew and Lucas, and have been happily married for 47 years.

Their children have grown up, started their own lives and have given Miller and Kay seven grandchildren. With the hustle and bustle of the child-rearing days behind him, as well as his retirement, Miller decided it was time finally to pick up his passion for woodworking and put it in full gear. His most common creations are beautiful cutting boards, cheese trays, wine bottle stoppers, wooden boxes, turkey calls and wooden-handled seam rippers. He is constantly coming up with new ideas and takes custom orders. His favorites are new projects that challenge him. One of these challenging projects was a curved, glass-front corner cabinet he made in 2015.

Hand-crafted duck calls.

Hand-crafted turkey calls.

Miller also displays and sells his work at various shows. One of his favorites is the annual Snake Alley Art Fair in Burlington, Iowa. He has been selling there for seven years. Miller is part of the Art Guild at the Snake Alley Art Fair, and some of his projects are in their gift show room. He also does the occasional gun show with his duck and turkey calls.

People in the Hamilton community like Miller and admire his talent. Julie Evans, a close friend to both Miller and Kay describes him as a wonderful man, friend and father who is passionate and precise about his woodworking. Evans worked with Kay for many years at the Caldwell County Title Company, where they became good friends. Miller has made wooden artwork for Evans, and he also made homemade pens for Kay and Evans to use at their office. Although Evans has retired, the families still spend special occasions together, like the Fourth of July.

Miller honors the material he works with by planting and caring for trees on his farm. He finds the beauty in the wood and enjoys sharing stories of where he got the wood to make his projects. He also shares information on the type of tree each wooden artifact is made from with his customers.

A shop full of wood might look like nothing to many people. To others, it might seem ominous because of the work involved in turning it into something useful. However, to Miller there are endless possibilities of beautiful work to create with that wood. It takes patience and talent and Miller possess these traits. Friends and customers know him as a dedicated and hardworking man, and his beautiful woodwork displays that.

> Photos by Meredith Clevenger

Meredith Clevenger

About the Author Meredith Clevenger

My name is Meredith Clevenger, and I am majoring in science and agricultural journalism with a possible minor in hospitality management. I was born and raised on a farm near the small town of Hamilton, Missouri. Hamilton is the boyhood home of J.C. Penney, but it is better known now as “Quilt Town USA.” I have been actively involved in 4-H since I was 5 years old; I was a three-year Clover Kid member because my entire family was already involved in 4-H and my mom was the club leader. I held every office within my club and our county council. My favorite activity in 4-H was showing pigs and I enjoyed showing at county fairs and the Missouri State Fair.