When Kevin Lely showed up at a Sonoma house last Wednesday he had no idea he would be reunited with a piece of art he made more than 34 years ago.
“I never thought I’d see this again,” said Lely as he ran his fingers over the grains of carved oak artwork hanging in a barn off of Hyde Road.
Ken Wornick, who owns the property where the woodwork was found, plotted the scheme to surprise the artist with Eric Strand, who owns an excavating business and lived on the property with his family from the late 1970s to early ’80s.
When Wornick and his wife, Cynthia, moved to Sonoma in April, they discovered the wooden carved piece of art hanging in an old tractor barn on the property.
“I was so intrigued by it,” Ken Wornick said, “I started asking everyone what they knew about it because I just had this sense that it had a story.”
The roughly 6-foot-by-4-foot frame holds a pastoral setting of a horse on a hillside under an oak tree carved in honey-colored oak. Etched in a silver nameplate in the bottom right corner was the Wornicks’ only clue: KEVIN LELY 1979.
The more the couple looked at the piece, the more they wanted to find the artist who created it.
“The longer I looked at the piece, the more I realized how evocative of California it was,” said Ken Wornick.
With the help of Strand, Ken Wornick searched for the artist in hopes of reuniting him with is work. Strand, as it turned out, knew Lely and his family since their children attend school together. Strand got in touch with Lely, who is a general contractor, on the front that he may have some work for him.
“This is amazing,” Lely said repeatedly. He told the group he’d only made two pieces. The first one was a much larger redwood piece that hung in at the old Marioni’s (which he and his brothers built). The second – the one at the Wornicks’ – was made out of oak for the owner of Saddlerock Ranch who commissioned Lely to build the piece after seeing the one at Marioni’s.
The ranch owner was very specific about what he wanted, Lely recalled, noting he had to include an Arabian horse and oak trees from the area. “See the bent nose there like an Arabian,” Lely said, pointing out a little bump detail in the wooden horse’s muzzle.
How the woodwork ended up at the Hyde Road property remains unclear. Ken Wornick said he’s been asking everyone he knows about the history of the piece.
“We have a son who is an artist,” Cynthia Wornick said. “We thought that if he had lost a piece of work then it’d be nice for someone to return it to him one day.”
“We wanted the good karma of giving it back to the artist,” Ken Wornick said.
Wornick and Strand helped the delighted artist take the carving down. Lely beamed as he talked about showing the piece to his children and maybe to a local museum. The trio loaded the piece into Lely’s yellow pickup and shortly thereafter he drove away, reunited with a treasure from his past.