Bowla-Bowla

56_oow_02On some weekend mornings, Scott Strobel can be found driving around the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn., with his Stihl chainsaw in the back of his truck. When a historic tree at Yale is cut down, Strobel usually receives a call and cuts some chunks so he can turn them into bowls and pens. What started out as a hobby has turned into a small business called Yale Bowls, named in homage to Yale's historic football stadium.

Strobel also has a day job. He is the former chair of, and now a professor in, the molecular biophysics and biochemistry department at Yale. He also has a joint appointment in the chemistry department and runs a research group of about 40.

"I started turning wood when I was walking up one of the main thoroughfares on campus and they were cutting down a beech tree in front of the admissions building and I asked them if they could leave me a couple of pieces. They did, so I brought my truck over, picked up some wood and thought it would be fun to start turning bowls on campus. That kind of got it started and they are taking trees down with some regularity for various reasons."

Some of the trees Strobel has come across are quite interesting, including a ginkgo tree that was more than 100 years old. All of the bowls are made from trees on campus, while some of the pens have been turned from old bleacher seats at the Yale Bowl.

"The things that sell the fastest are the natural-edge bowls and the tree that people seem to be most interested in is the admissions tree just because that building is such a gateway to anyone who comes on campus or anyone who is a student here. To have something from such a gateway is meaningful to people. It's an American beech."

Strobel has turned his garage into a shop and uses a Vicmarc lathe. Most of his customers are Yale alumni that find his turnings an unusual connection to the campus. He doesn't anticipate his endeavor getting any larger.

"I think I have just about maxed out what I can do and not have it get in the way of my day job. But I think the idea of things made of wood that has a story and has an address is something that is increasingly going to become important to people. The idea of sustainability is important and these trees are just coming down and being discarded. People like the idea of something meaningful coming from them."

For information, visit www.yalebowls.com.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.