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Here be dragons; Paddens' signs span the globe.

Byline: Ellie Oleson

AUBURN - There is a dragon in the home of Betty and Bob Padden at 341 Oxford St. North.

When they finish carving and painting it, the 5-foot wooden serpent will hang in Chester, Canada, over the entrance to the Fo'c'sle. Founded in 1764, it is the oldest rural tavern in Nova Scotia.

The Paddens, owners of Wooden Apple Signmakers, also carved the large, gilded letters marking the entrance to Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall; the processional crucifix used at The College of the Holy Cross; the Massachusetts State Police Academy entrance sign; the Dellano & Seymour Hawaiian House sign in Honolulu; the Amish Furniture sign in Ninilchik, Alaska; as well as signs for Anheuser Busch, Colonial Williamsburg and numerous shops in Cape Cod and Pennsylvania.

"We have carved thousands of signs that hang all over the country and around the world," Mr. Padden said.

Ironically, there is no sign outside identifying their business, though two large "Wooden Apple" signs hang on the walls inside.

"The town wouldn't let us put out a sign," Mrs. Padden said.

Their work and teaching of carving is done in a large and colorful studio-classroom attached to their Hobbit-like house, which sits on a triangular, tree-covered lot at the intersection of Oxford Street North and Bryn Mawr Avenue.

Even though it is no longer the holiday season, entering their house is like walking into Santa's workshop.

Overhead are flags of the many states and nations in which the Paddens' signs hang. There are cases of carved miniatures and colorful crystal balls decorated on the inside with reverse painting designed by Mrs. Padden. The walls are covered with rows of chisels and other tools that hang amid signs of all sizes, wreaths surrounding carved figures, paintings and other Padden artworks.

One 2-foot carving of a Santa-like toymaker looks remarkably like her husband.

"He's a good model," Mrs. Padden said.

On the floor are painted canvas mats that serve as rugs or tablecloths.

"We're starting a line of canvas rugs," Mrs. Padden said.

There are also small piles of "Woodcarving Illustrated" magazine, to which Mrs. Padden is a regular contributor. Her most recent article, "Heartfelt Home Door Topper," with complete instructions and a pattern, is in the Spring 2013 edition.

Mrs. Padden, who also wrote a book, "Lettering and Sign Carving Workbook," published in 2011, is a "self-taught master carver," according to her proud husband.

Their successful business was begun in May 1976 by Mr. Padden.

Mr. Padden said, "I was a regional manager for Sears when the company opened a store in Auburn. After seven years with Sears, I wanted a change."

He had always had an interest in carving, and decided to open a sign shop upstairs in the old railroad depot that currently houses Golden Pizza at the intersection of Brotherton Way and Auburn Street.

"Bob Newcomb got the P&W Railroad to let him use the old depot. He and Dick Fuller sold furniture, and Joe Messina, a local cop, sold rugs downstairs. We opened Wooden Apple Signmakers upstairs," Mr. Padden said.

His brother, Pat Padden, owned several stores on Cape Cod and gave Mr. Padden his first contract for signs.

He said the owner of Winchester Insurance, Kip Winchester, sold him insurance at the same time local builder Fran Johnson was building Mr. Winchester's house.

Mr. Johnson's daughter, Betty, had recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a degree in anthropology. At UMass, she had taken a course in wood technology from R. Bruce Hoadley.

"I had whittled on my own for years. Dr. Hoadley introduced me to chisels and the amazing scope of what can be done," Mrs. Padden said.

"One day, Betty came to our studio with a bag of her work to apply for a job. I was so impressed! She was a self-taught master carver and a beautiful girl. What she does is amazing. I am so proud of her," Mr. Padden said.

The couple celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary Nov. 2.

They regularly visit trade shows, where they have earned contracts with the Disney Corp., Ne'Qwa Art, Blossom Bucket, Colonial Williamsburg, Lang Company Calendars, Kitchen Kettle Village and many other companies and shops.

Mrs. Padden said, "Businesses have come to know how important a good sign is. People love wood. It is warm and natural. Our students are fascinated to learn how to release a figure out of a block of wood."

They have letters from several shop owners, who say business rose 20 to 25 percent once they had their carved wooden sign erected.

One letter is from former Fire Chief Roger Belhumeur, a student of the Paddens. Mr. Belhumeur made the Bell's Garden Center sign that hangs outside his son Matthew's business at 201 Southbridge St.

"We are so proud of him and all our students. Many of them come here with no art experience at all. We teach them carving and painting. Painting's the hard part," Mrs. Padden said.

She said all her students learn the art of shading and mixing colors. "That's where the magic comes from."

The Paddens have two sons: Thomas, who recently graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, and Joseph, an Auburn police officer and "a wonderful carver," Mrs. Padden said.

She said the most difficult carvings they have ever worked on were the memorial carvings of State Trooper George L. Hannah and Auburn Patrolman Stephen A. Lukas, who both died in the line of duty in Auburn. Carvings of both men hang in the lobby of the Auburn Police Department.

"I hope we never have to do another."

The Wooden Apple Signmakers shop is open by appointment only. Visit for more information.



CUTLINE: (1) Betty Padden of The Wooden Apple Signmakers works on a dragon for the Fo'c'sle, the oldest rural tavern in Nova Scotia. (2) Wood carver Betty Padden and her husband, Robert, owners of The Wooden Apple Signmakers.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 22, 2013
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