Craftsman has penchant
for preserving history
Midland Reporter Telegram
by Kris Murante
turns a piece of Texas while shaping it into a beautiful
writing instrument. Hill Makes pens from "famous"
wood. Years ago, he made many pens out of the Treaty
Oak in Austin, Texas
dozen or so years ago, a man in Odessa began barking
up the trees of Texas with a penchant for history that
has led him to carve ornate writing pens from some of
the most historical wood in the state, such as the 600-year-old
Treaty Oak in Austin and even a few Nolan Ryan baseball
Kenn Hill, who retired in 1992 from Oberkampf Supply
to pursue pen-making, learned the handcrafted pen trade
from his brother, Tom Hill, about 12 years ago.
"I thought he was crazy when he told me he was
retiring early to make pens," Hill explained. "I
said, 'What kind of pens? Chicken pens?"
Kenn's doubt evaporated into sawdust when he and his
wife went to one of his brother's first craft shows
outside of Dallas.
"We saw this huge crowd around one of the trade
booths, and sure enough it was Tommy," Hill recalled.
"That's the first time I had seen the pens. I immediately
knew he was going to have to teach me how to make those."
Today Kenn Hill has made pens for families, mayors and
even the president.
In 1995 Hill called the city of Austin and pitched his
idea to make pens from fallen limbs of the Treaty Oak
where Stephen F. Austin sat to negotiate treaties. The
project took root and Hill was eventually able to present
a treaty oak pen to then-Gov. Bush. The pens also were
sold in a campaign to replant Austin trees recently
lost to oakwilt.
Texas Rangers Cpt. Barry Caver with Ranger Company E
in Midland has delivered Hill's pens into the hands
of Texas senators and representatives, including Speaker
of the House Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
"He's made all the Texas Rangers here in my company
pens out of Texas mesquite," Caver said. "He
did such a good job -- I'm also a member of the Texas
Department of Public Safety Officer's Association and
we do a lot of dealing with the legislators. We decided
we would identify key legislators that had helped us
in the past and ended up having 25 or 30 pens made for
certain legislators around the state."
Hill said he had never used a wood lathe in his life
when he set about learning to craft pens.
"The first pen I made took me maybe two hours --
now I can get one out in about 15 minutes."
one pen at a time
Local craftsman works art from historic trees
has been crafting pens out of wood from famous historical
trees and trees not so famous for eight years. Hill recently
finished 250 limited-edition pens from the last-known apple
tree planted by Johnny Appleseed.
(Lara Meckfessel / Odessa American)
craftsman Kenn Hill literally can write with a piece of
history. For eight years, the 65-year-old Odessan has
crafted pens out of the wood of famous historical trees.
has made pens out of dozens of historic trees, including
the first burkett pecan tree in Texas, a century old
Mulberry tree in Lubbock and a tulip poplar from Andrew
Jackson’s home, the Hermitage.
recently completed a set of 250 limited-edition pens
made from the last-known apple tree planted by Johnny
was planted in the late 1780s and it was still producing
fruit until 1996," Hill said. Appleseed, whose real
name was John Chapman, planted the tree in Nova, Ohio,
while on his famous western tree-planting trek.
all of the historic trees Hill works with, the Appleseed
tree died of natural causes.
was given wood from the tree by the American Forest
Famous & Historic Trees organization, a conservation
group that works to preserve national forest.
"There was only enough wood for a few hundred, which
is why this is a very limited edition," he said.
wood from a tree grown at Valley Ranch was turned into
pens. The most popular type of pen Hill makes is the Texas
(Lara Meckfessel / Odessa American)
with most of the trees that he works with, he received the
wood in log form that he would then cut into square boards.
the boards would be cut into small blocks, which would be
formed into pens using a wood lathe, he said.
said he makes about 10,000 pens a year from historical wood,
common mesquite trees, and even deer antlers.
the most popular of all the types of pens I make is the Texas
mesquite," he said.
sells a variety of pens from his home with cost ranging from
$20 to $35.
Appleseed pens, which will be sold exclusively through the
American Forest organization, cost $50 each with a portion
of the proceeds going to the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Ohio.
The organization can be reached at 1-800-320-8733 or at its
web page at www.americanforest.org.
his contact with American Forest, Hill said he plans to make
pens out of several more famous trees, including the Texas
champion Durand Oak and the Spyglass Oak in Virginia
am always looking for more historical trees," he said.
Larry D. Hodge - Author
See Article Below
EVEN THE MOST MAJESTIC OF TREES
someday fall victim to old age, drought, disease, storm, or
Larry D. Hodge
Kenn Hill of Odessa, along with his brother
Tom, and his nephew Greg Hill, both of Bedford, specialize in
giving new life to wood from fallen trees.
The trio, who make ball point writing
pens using wood salvaged from dead trees or fallen limbs, seek
out historical trees for the purpose and invited nonprofit groups
to participate. They’ve made pens from Arlington’s Witness
Tree, Grapevine’s Constitution Tree, Georgetown’s Courthouse
Oak, and Austin’s Treaty Oak.
However, Kenn Hill says, “We’ll use wood
from anything” citing pens made from baseball bats autographed
by Nolan Ryan.
Currently, the Hills are making pens from
a fallen limb of the National Champion Pecan Tree near Weatherford.
“After I learned that a storm had torn
a limb from the tree I contacted the Finches, “says Kenn.
They agreed to our making the pens and offering them to charitable
organizations to sell.” Kenn estimates the one limb will
yield 10,000 pens.
The Hills make pens in two sizes.
The larger pen uses Parker refills and sells
for $34; the smaller pen uses Cross refills and sells for $24
(plus shipping and tax). Personal names can be laser engraved
for $5 extra per pen.
Photo By Larry
Larry D. Hodge - Author
been writing most of his life.
has edited and written Texas history textbooks as well
as a variety
of other educational materials.
has been a contributor to
years and is
a contributing editor to
and Wildlife magazine.
words and photos have appeared in both those magazines and
in Progressive Farmer, Texas Sportsman,
Texas Fish and Game, and Texas Monthly.
is the author of several guidebooks to Texas, including The
Texas Dog Lover's Companion, Backroads of Texas, and
is currently working on a guidebook to
management areas and a
to Texas campgrounds.
The Odessa American
See Article Below
can you do in 6 minutes? It takes the sun’s rays,
traveling at the speed of light, 8.3 minutes to reach the earth.
was the first athlete to run a mile in under 4 minutes.
And a family
trio, two of which are native Odessans, have turned art into
science by being able to handcraft in 6 minutes a piece of lumber
into a ball point writing pen made of polished wood and 24K
Hill founded T&G Pens in 1991, as a second career after
retiring from General Motors. His son, Greg, became a
full time partner in 1993. Tom’s brother, Kenn Hill, opened
KennsPenns of Odessa in 1992 after retiring from Oberkampf
the trio has made about 150,000 pens. You do the math.
craftsmanship is known worldwide. The businesses went
international in 1992, and among the 40 countries in their overseas
distribution are England, Russia and China.
specialize in the making of commemorative pens from the wood
of historical trees of Texas and custom make them for individuals,
corporations, gift shops and non profit organizations, who use
them as fund-raisers,” said Kenn Hill.
now, the pens-in-progress are made from a fallen limb of the
1,100-year-old National Championship Pecan Tree in Weatherford.
The towns charitable organizations will sell the pens for their
types of wood the trio use have collectible qualities.
For example, they have made 1,190 pens from baseball bats autographed
by Nolan Ryan.
is interested in expanding by offering pens made from historical
wood in other states. For now, the Jack Daniel distillery
has requested pens made from its used whiskey barrels to sell
at the Jack Daniel General Store in Tennessee..
are sold for retail and wholesale. Call 432-550-4955.
the end product is the same, a profitable business, the beginning
of the enterprise was different for each family member.
Tom Hill decided to make and sell writing pens from wood, his
idea flourished beyond his expectations. In less than a decade,
his cottage industry, T&G Pens, grew into an international
enterprise. Yet each pen is still handcrafted and the business
remains privately owned and managed by the family. For Tom,
this venture was purely business.
did this as a hobby. I learned that few of these craftsmen existed,
yet the product was popular. Once I knew I could sell at least
400 pens a year, I took early retirement and opened the business
in 1991,” said Tom Hill. His projections were a little
off. He sold 2,000 pens at crafts shows and malls in his first
two months. “By September ’93, the business had outgrown
me. I asked my son Greg to become a full partner and now the
two of us make about 12,000 to 15,000 pens a year,” he said.
Each year, the duo travels to crafts shows and malls in 38 states.
brother, Kenn Hill, did have a background in woodworking.
As a child
in Odessa, he remembers that before age 6, he would take one
of his “mothers butcher knives and a ball peen hammer and make
toys out of 2 x 4s my Daddy would bring home.”
64, Kenn, too, has a second career with
the marketing arm for both businesses and handles packaging
and shipping orders.
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