© Anushka Bose and Brian Schlindwein. All rights reserved.*
A few weeks ago, I found myself browsing the Aramco Brats Facebook page, where I stumbled upon a truly exquisite Aramco Brats Cutting Board. After reading the post, I discovered that the creator of the board, Brian Schlindwein, had masterfully crafted this piece as part of his broader woodworking collection through his business, Dovetail Artistry. Seizing the opportunity, I sent him a message to express my admiration for his woodwork and to inquire if he would be open to sharing his story with Aramco ExPats. To my delight, he agreed, and I had the privilege of interviewing Brian to delve into his background in the Kingdom in the ‘80s and explore the fascinating world of his woodworking business. I drew a great deal of inspiration from his story, and my hope is that you will too!
Background: Life in Saudi Arabia
- How did your journey in Saudi Arabia begin?
My dad received an opportunity to work for ARAMCO during his tenure as a mechanical engineer and machinist while we were living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1980.
- Where did you move from, and how old were you at the time?
I was 11 years old when we moved to Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- What are some of your favorite memories from your time in the Kingdom?
I have many cherished memories from our time in Saudi Arabia. I can honestly say that these years had the most significant impact on my life and left a lasting impression. I'll attempt to list a few:
- As previously mentioned, we resided in Ras Tanura, which was conveniently close to the beach. I spent a great deal of my free time in the sand and surf – it was absolutely beautiful! I even took up snorkeling and SCUBA diving, embarking on several dive trips in the Persian Gulf on those somewhat rickety Saudi Dhow boats.
- Family shopping excursions to Rahima, Khobar, and Dammam were always delightful, brimming with local culture and fun.
- Spending time with friends is always at the top of the list. I met numerous kids, not only from the U.S. but from all around the world.
- BMX racing was a popular sport and pastime during our time with ARAMCO, and despite the cuts, scrapes, and broken bones, I hold many cherished memories from the Friday evening races.
- The "repat" vacations allowed us to explore the world, and those are trips I will forever hold close to my heart. We had the opportunity to visit and vacation in Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, China, Thailand, Hawaii, and various destinations across the United States. It's the most international traveling I've ever done in such a relatively short period. I also had the opportunity to be an exchange student in the south of France at the end of my 7th-grade year, where I lived with a French family and attended a French school during the summer of '81.
Reflecting on these memories, in many ways, our time in Saudi Arabia felt like living in a whirlwind dream.
- Can you recall a specific moment during your time in the Kingdom when your status as an outsider was particularly evident?
For the most part, we felt very welcomed in Saudi Arabia, but there were occasions when returning through customs and immigration at Dhahran Airport, going through camp security, or engaging in certain activities with my mom outside of the camp served as reminders that we were still considered outsiders. Additionally, it took us some time to adjust to the early morning prayer calls and the temporary closing of shops during prayer times.
- Similarly, can you recall a snippet from your time in the Kingdom when you felt that you seamlessly blended into the local society, where the contrast between cultures was bridged by a shared activity, emotion, or another commonality?
During our numerous shopping trips, we genuinely felt welcomed and, with time, became closely connected with our Saudi hosts. Much like many Aramco families, my mom and dad had a penchant for shopping for gold, jewelry, and distinctive Saudi antiquities, and we developed genuine relationships with vendors and their families that went beyond mere business transactions.
I distinctly recall the owner of a watch shop, "Mohammed," who spent a great deal of time with us. Sometimes, he would even close up his shop to accompany us on our shopping excursions, effectively becoming a Rahima tour guide and a dear friend. He was a gracious and kind-hearted man, and we had the pleasure of hosting him at our house for various celebrations on several occasions.
Another individual, named "Abdullah," owned a gold shop in the Rahima souk, and he and my dad formed a deep friendship. My dad always found it amusing how Abdullah would nonchalantly take a handful of money from him and toss it into a pile of cash in the corner. Abdullah was incredibly affable, and we eagerly anticipated our interactions with him.
We also enjoyed visiting "Cheap Charlies," where we consistently felt welcomed and had the opportunity to meet many Saudis. Additionally, we encountered Saudis in various settings in the camp, whether it was at Najmah for sporting events, holiday parades, or even at the beach!
- Were you present in the Kingdom during a period of increased political turmoil in the Middle East or a significant international event that had repercussions for Aramco's security?
We spent five years in the Kingdom during the early '80s, with two years at Aramco in Ras Tanura and three years at Sadaf in Jubail. Fortunately, it was a relatively peaceful period in the Middle East, and we weren't exposed to the more turbulent times that would come in the '90s and beyond.
- How do you stay connected to your past, to your time in Saudi?
Staying in touch with my Aramco friends and preserving the connection to our Saudi past wasn't the easiest task, especially as many of us dispersed to our respective homes across the globe after leaving for boarding school following our 9th-grade year.
I had the opportunity to return as a student for the initial few years of boarding school, which allowed me to reunite with many of my friends. However, after that, I only remained in contact with a small group of my closest buddies. That changed in 2008 when Facebook and other social media platforms became prevalent, facilitating the reconnection of many of us. Social media has since proven to be incredibly valuable in maintaining those connections.
Brian’s Business: Dovetail Artistry
- Tell me a little bit about Dovetail Artistry: When did you start it and what kind of products do you create?
My woodworking journey actually began in Saudi Arabia at the Najmah School in the early '80s! My woodshop and industrial arts instructor, Mr. Buddy Lord, was a dynamic, larger-than-life, hands-on, and knowledgeable teacher who imparted a wealth of knowledge and ignited my passion for this craft.
I established my business, Dovetail Artistry, in 2006, and I still apply the techniques and wisdom I acquired from those classes I attended during my Saudi days with Mr. Lord.
I create a wide variety of woodcrafts, including most of the furniture in our home, our kitchen, trimwork, doors, artwork, and more. However, when it comes to what I sell, I primarily focus on items that are often given as gifts. This includes chess and checkers sets, picture frames, bowls and vases, baseball bats, intricate wooden art carvings, jewelry boxes and armoires, cutting boards, pens, small tables and chairs, drink coasters, and more. I also offer custom work for specific orders.
- Walk me through your creative process. How do you translate the creative idea in your head to a finished Dovetail product in your hands?
My creative process isn't necessarily linear or structured, primarily because I craft various projects with different levels of complexity and sizes. However, generally, for new ideas, there is a design and layout phase where I outline, measure, and mark the project's boundaries and dimensions, either on paper or through computer design.
For some crafts, it's as straightforward as sketching with a pencil on paper and then proceeding directly to the table saw to commence work. In other cases, I employ software to meticulously develop my designs, especially when working with my CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine. On occasions when the design is established, and I'm replicating work, the entire process resides in my mind, and it's a matter of moving from wood to saw blade to sander and finally to the finishing touches.
In the case of lathe-turning bowls and vases, the design often takes shape as I'm turning the wood, with the design revealing itself in real-time as the wood spins.
- What serves as the inspiration for your products? Do they hold sentimental value, fulfill practical daily needs, or perhaps a combination of both?
Much of my work is inspired by my genuine love for exotic woods and the art of woodworking itself. However, over the years, I have tailored my products to meet the preferences of shoppers and align with market demand.
I must emphasize that from the early stages of this business, I made it my mission to create original, hand-crafted, and unique designs, as opposed to mass-produced items made from inexpensive and unstable woods. This approach may require additional time and design effort, as well as the use of wood that is not necessarily cheap.
Nevertheless, I've come to realize that my customers appreciate the value they receive and can discern the attention to detail I invest in each and every piece. I like to believe that the positive reviews I've received over the years serve as a testament to the quality and uniqueness of my work.
- Tell me about the ARAMCO BRAT Cutting Board you recently created. What sparked the idea for this project?
The Aramco Brat cutting board I recently crafted is an idea that has been brewing in my mind for several years. It's essentially an extension of the Brat drink coasters I initially designed in 2021. I grew tired of hearing people say, "This cutting board is just too beautiful to cut on!" So, I aimed to create a design that would serve a dual purpose, with one side for display and the other side intended for cutting. Hence, I embarked on fabricating multi-use boards of this nature, and what better project to bring to life than the Aramco Brat cutting board I had envisioned!
The display side of the board showcases a striking "Brat" design with multi-colored epoxy resin inlay, sealed with a durable polyurethane finish. On the flip side, which is meant for cutting, you'll find a juice groove and adjacent channels for efficiently handling wet and messy foods. This side is coated with my proprietary food-safe butcher block conditioner, which is crafted from a blend of beeswax, mineral oil, coconut oil, and vitamin E.
- Can you tell me about another woodcraft product you've worked on? I noticed your 2012 Facebook post where you were considering names like "Galaxy," "Celestial," or "Dreamers" for a keepsake. I'd love to hear the story behind that piece and any other projects you'd like to share.
Crafting jewelry boxes and armoires represents some of the most intricate and detailed work I create. While making a wooden box might appear simple on the surface, there's more complexity involved, especially in highly detailed projects. Additionally, these pieces require a substantial amount of wood when you consider the inclusion of drawers and lids. The installation of hinges and metal components poses its own set of challenges.
The "Celestial Box" featured in my portfolio demanded close to 100 hours of CNC carvings alone. It's one of those projects that I occasionally take on, knowing that I may not replicate it in the future.
Baseball bats, another item I craft, have hidden complexities. I turn these bats to precise specifications and invest extra time in "boning" and "flame tempering" them. Sometimes, I apply up to 10 coats of finish to further harden the wood, prevent splitting, and enhance the overall effectiveness of the bat.
My chess sets are equally time-consuming and intricate to create, but the sense of satisfaction upon seeing and feeling the finished product is truly remarkable.
- What inspires your artistic flow when you're crafting your products? Is it music, a particular state of mind, or maybe a cherished memory that fuels your creativity?
I love this question!
Music is a significant source of inspiration for me. You'll often find me in my workshop with one of my playlists playing in the background. Additionally, my state of mind is crucial. I do my best work when I'm fully focused, concentrated, and my mind is performing at its peak. Inspiration takes many forms. Sometimes, it's as simple as a beautiful day, a good night's sleep, the support of my wife, or a kind gesture from someone else that boosts my motivation and creativity.
- Where can people go to learn more about Dovetail and purchase your products?
You can discover my products and visit my shop on Etsy at www.dovetail artistry.etsy.com. Additionally, I showcase my latest creations on my Facebook business page, which you can find at www.facebook.com/dovetailartistry.
- Is there a common thread, a sentiment or thought, that ties together the different aspects of your life – your time in Saudi Arabia, Dovetail Artistry, and your current life in the States? If so, what would it be?
A sentiment that I live by, one of my guiding life principles that motivates and inspires me, and has been repeatedly validated, is: "You can achieve anything if you genuinely commit yourself to it!" This is a piece of wisdom my dad shared with me at various points in my life, and it's a lesson I've gleaned from all my journeys and life experiences. Never sell yourself short!
Brian currently resides in the welcoming city of Kansas City, Missouri, alongside his beautiful wife, Amy, with whom he's celebrated seven wonderful years of marriage. Beyond his deep passion for woodworking, Brian's life is enriched by a variety of hobbies and interests that infuse it with vitality. He's a skilled guitarist and finds solace in the melodies he creates. Aquariums and the art of tropical fish breeding capture his enthusiasm, and he's deeply connected to the world of horticulture, nurturing plants and exploring its scientific aspects. Photography, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and cherishing quality moments with his wife and their fur kids are integral parts of his daily routine. Brian's love for travel has led him to embark on 15 Caribbean adventures, each leaving an indelible mark on his journey. Early morning beach runs fill him with boundless joy. He possesses an insatiable appetite for learning, experiencing different cultures, and forging new connections drives his spirit. Sitting still is a challenge he rarely accepts.
Anushka is a current PhD Student at American University in Washington, D.C. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy High School. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, language, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the Third Culture Kid experience. Dhahran continues to hold a big place in her heart.
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