Carbondale woman puzzles out gifts for family
December 1, 2008
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Pam McPherson sometimes puts images on both sides of her hand-made puzzle pieces.
“I have done that ” it’s not very nice,” she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “When people begin to think the puzzles are too easy I like to confound them. They’re no fun if you can do them in no time flat.”
McPherson, 84, said no one really calls her by her first name. She explained simply, “I’m Granny,” while standing under a sign in her kitchen that says, “Old age ain’t for sissies!”
She’s been hand-crafting her own puzzles with a scroll saw for more than 50 years. She first started around age 30 when her 3-year-old daughter was in Girl Scouts.
“They roped me into being a Girl Scout leader. I was trying to think about something for the girls to do for Christmas,” she said.
When she was growing up McPherson often sat around the table and put together puzzle pieces with her family. She’s carried on the tradition by building puzzles herself and giving them to friends and family, often during the holidays.
McPherson gardens in the summer and focuses on the puzzles when it’s colder.
“You get cutting and it’s mesmerizing,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for so long it’s almost automatic.”
On a cold November morning she lit up a wood stove in her workshop on her property off Highway 82 just south of Carbondale. She wore jeans, a US Ski Team hat and a leather coat over a heavy flannel shirt while demonstrating the intricacies of her craft.
McPherson’s puzzle pieces are often smaller than what’s found in a store, and they’re cut into more complex shapes. Some pieces are as small as a square centimeter. She always cuts each turn a little more than a half-circle, so that the completed puzzle will hold itself together if someone picks it up by the corner.
McPherson gets her images mainly from magazines and calendars. She uses all kinds of images from money to dogs to business cards and outdoor scenes. One room in her house has a filing cabinet in the middle of the room filled with images for puzzles and many more boxes stacked on it. She says it has up to 3,000 images waiting to be stuck onto her puzzles.
Many were sent by family and friends. McPherson combs through the images and picks whichever one strikes her mood in the workshop. She makes around 100 puzzles a year but used to make more than 300 each year.
McPherson coats the wood with Elmer’s glue and lets it dry for a day or two. Then she wets the glue and sticks the image onto the wood before cutting out the puzzle pieces.
The blades she uses on the scroll saw are tiny. She feels for the teeth to make sure the blade is attached right and tightens it up by pitch like a guitar string. She includes a card with her puzzles. It says they include no guide image because that would ruin the enjoyment of discovering the image the puzzle forms as it’s put together. She said she copied that from a puzzle from France.
Even though McPherson sells her puzzles only rarely on commission for special friends, she tells her grandkids, “You have to figure out what you have the most fun doing, then you find out how to make money at it, then your whole life will be somewhat copasetic.”
McPherson said she was diagnosed with five years to live from a cancer in the 1950s. She moved to Aspen then from the midwest because she loved skiing and beat the cancer with a complete hysterectomy. Her father, a doctor, first put her on skis on a golf course when she was only about 6. The skis were so big and clunky in those days that all she could do was head straight downhill.
McPherson ran the “Eat-a-bite” restaurant for a year in Glenwood Springs and ran the Snow Chase lodge in Aspen for around 20 years. At the top of Mill Street, she said it was the best spot in town because people could ski right to the back door. She said she bought it for $45,000 and sold it two decades later for $425,000 before moving to Carbondale.
She moved to her place near Carbondale in 1978 because of the ski bums and her love of gardening.
“Living in a large house with 35 bums was finally getting to my head,” she said, adding later, “I love growing veggies, and I can’t do that in Aspen.”
Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO