They begin as square blocks, these things of beauty.
They’re formed in pressing exotic hardwoods, ordered in from around the world — zebra wood, ebony, anything pretty and pretty rare. Then they get taken down to a well-equipped little workshop tucked away from the world on Kasold Drive.
Paul Kincaid, an active and by all accounts very happy soon-to-be 92-year-old man, then crafts them from blocks of wood into beloved bracelets.
The bracelets then go to any number of women Kincaid comes across — family friends, his devoted patients from his 67-year-old dental practice, even presidential first ladies.
Ann Church is one such woman who says she feels grateful to know Kincaid (they’ve been friends since the 1960s) and to be a recipient of one of his nearly 200 creations.
She shows off the custom-fitted ebony bangle she got last winter with dressy outfits and calls it her fun-to-wear conversation piece.
Church has a theory for what drives Kincaid’s donations, other than just a desire to keep busy in semi-retirement.
“I think he really likes women,” she says with a laugh. “I tease him about how popular he is with women of a certain age. But he’s just happy to have them in his life. He likes people, and people like him.”
Kincaid’s wife and high-school sweetheart, Mary Bess, died in January 2011. The two were extremely close, even after decades of marriage, friends say, and ever the extrovert, Paul always found inspiration in friends and family. Grandchildren and community ladies became even more important after his wife’s death, Church says.
So when Kincaid began woodworking again about a year and a half ago, he says, he did it to have something to give. And why not give away beautiful things? Kincaid clearly has a respect for women in the community, but that doesn’t stop him from a little gentle teasing.
“Pretty things —” he says in his workshop, “even if they don’t wear them, they want them. That’s women.”
He made the first bracelet for his granddaughter, and his current project is creating one for Rosalynn Carter, wife of former president — and fellow woodworker — Jimmy Carter. Kincaid says he wrote to President Carter to try to impress him, but the dentist’s letter is high on humility about his woodworking skills. Kincaid says he hasn’t written to Mr. and Mrs. Obama yet, but he probably will.
“You never know who will take the bait and want one,” he says of his polished bangles.
When asked how he determines who should get one of his expensive and laborious gifts, he says that “all you have to do is stick your neck out.” In other words, just about anybody can request one, though she’ll likely have to wait in line.
“I have a waiting list of about 20,” Kincaid says. “Hopefully I won’t forget.”
And that just may get to yet another theory behind Kincaid’s jewelry generosity — making sure he’s not forgotten.
“It’s a nice legacy to have something pretty and handmade — it makes people think about him,” Church says. “And it makes you feel special.”
Kincaid says he’s talked to Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman about setting up some kind of program for people at local shelters to learn woodworking, to build up their own sense of self-worth, he says.
Whether or not that happens, Barbara Murphy knows she’s yet another Lawrence resident to feel Kincaid’s constant concern for others.
She says she’s had “the joy and the honor” of knowing him since childhood, as he was close friends with her father. She eventually taught several of Kincaid’s grandchildren and got a zebra wood gift “polished to perfection” last spring.
Describing Kincaid, Murphy repeats a phrase — happy and fulfilled.
“He whistles while he works — I think no matter what he’s working on,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to know someone like that.”
And for the man now famous for his creating pretty things for pretty women, Murphy had another phrase to describe her smiling family friend.
“He’s a gentleman in every sense of the word.”