Residing on three acres alongside the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge in Alma, WI, Bob Gale is settling into a peaceful retirement after over four decades as a master woodworker and fine furniture restoration artist. Bob’s work guided him on a journey that granted him many diverse opportunities, such as restoring a 19th century “salt flat racing car,” composing a number of Japanese-styled marquetry screens, and designing special systems for transporting fragile historical statues, but he credits Moorestown Friends as the community that set him on his life path so many years ago.
Bob arrived at MFS in 1961 and followed his natural curiosity, gaining an expansive liberal education.
“There are many aspects and skills within my career, and I developed so many foundations there in the 1960s,” said Bob. “Mechanical Drawing with Mr. Shelley – I still use that class to this day! We designed things individually and learned the skill of drawing and projections. Chemistry with Mr. Caughey – in furniture conservation and furniture finishing, chemistry is key when you’re analyzing old furniture. Geometry, algebra, trigonometry for design and engineering.”
The silent reflection of Meeting for Worship also helped Bob find his political center and inner light. He questioned what he wanted to pursue in life and realized he was seeking a non-war-related path that was peaceful, constructive, and sustainable after graduating from New York University in 1971. As Bob phrased it, “That’s where the Moriuchi family and serendipity stepped in.”
The Moriuchi family invited Bob to a New Year’s dinner at their home and arranged for him to meet Mr. Perrella, the father of Carol “Kiyo” Moriuchi ’71’s college classmate. The Moriuchis knew that Bob enjoyed building and Mr. Perrella, a sixth-generation Italian cabinet maker and restorer, was looking for an apprentice. At the dinner, Bob asked if he could observe Mr. Perrella at work in North Jersey for six months. Ultimately that meeting culminated in Bob completing a six-year apprenticeship during which he learned the essentials of furniture restoration, conservation, and antique reproduction.
After completing the apprenticeship, Bob returned to South Jersey to open up his first commercial shop in Moorestown.
“The Quaker community was so supportive of me and I’ll always be grateful for the strength and kindness I received,” said Bob. “I distributed 50 flyers in Moorestown and only advertised once with an ad in an antique collectors magazine. After that, it was the community and word of mouth.”
The business, R.I. Gale, acquired steady work throughout South Jersey, although it did not stay physically stationed in Moorestown. In 1985, as he reduced his hours, Bob decided to return to graduate school to study statistics and marketing. Two years later, he received his M.A. in communications research from the University of Pennsylvania. Afterwards, he moved to the Midwest to Madison to be closer to family.
“In Madison, I was working on historical artifacts a whole lot, doing architectural preservation and art preservation” said Bob. “With those jobs, I learned a great deal about material science and conservation. I was taking old pieces apart completely, cleaning them up, putting them back together again, but the goal was to restore objects to let them tell their stories.”
He would travel outside Wisconsin to consult in the field, visiting small historical societies and museums. For Bob, it was fascinating to see what types of things people hoped to save — Masonic temple costumes, secret meeting houses, an old caboose, and much more. With such unique projects over the course of so many years, he slowly came to specialize in veneer work (decorating one surface material with another more attractive material) and marquetry (inlaid work made from small pieces of wood to decorate furniture). Bob spent hours studying beautiful pieces of wood so he could compose intricate geometric shapes and pictures.
Now in retirement, Bob still spends time working with wood, although in a different capacity. On his property in Alma, he is in the process of planting black cherry, walnut, and various other types of trees that produce nuts and berries, which Bob hopes will provide nourishment for the local community and for the incredible amount of wildlife.
“It’s time now to complete the cycle of sustainable work in my career,” said Bob.