Talent, Heart, Art
Longtime El Segundo resident Pat Lennon is a gifted artist and musician with kindness to spare.
By Maureen Kingsley
Photos by Lee Tonks
Creativity and artistry are sometimes found in the most unassuming places—like a modest 1920s Spanish-revival-style house on a corner of Maple Avenue just east of Main Street in El Segundo. The house, painted a deep red and tucked away from view by a row of lush hedges, a handful of trees, and scattered tropical and desert plants, is occupied by artist, veteran carpenter, woodworker, rock musician, surfer, and all-around friendly free spirit, Pat Lennon (pictured).
“The whole footprint of the bottom floor of this house is my shop,” Pat says, welcoming visitors into a unique and beautifully sunlit space filled with hand-crafted wooden furniture, intricately carved wooden artworks, vintage and hand-shaped surfboards, miniature handmade wooden surfboards, plein air paintings, and floor-to-ceiling island ephemera and artifacts. (“His amazing home is like a museum!” says neighbor Tanya Taylor.) Among the many unique pieces on display in his space are decorative, handmade tables created from Mexican fan palm trees (pictured below), including the fronds of those trees, which Pat builds into his designs after cutting the fronds down to a small, sturdy shape and size. The fronds, resembling feathers, adorn the tables in a way that evokes a 20th-century island aesthetic. Palm fronds are also used for the table legs, which curve gracefully up from the floor to support table tops inlaid with contrasting wood pieces in diamond and starburst shapes.
“Many of the palm fronds I use come from a tree I planted myself, here in my front yard, 23 years ago,” Pat says of his tables, which all share a similar island look but vary in height, width, and detailing. “I’m proud of that.” Their design is inspired by three tables Pat was gifted years ago, whose origins aren’t fully known. “As far as I can tell,” he says of those original tables, which sit elegantly in his front window, “their look and shape match those of tables created in Japanese-American internment camps during World War Two,” particularly one featured in the book The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946 and built from salvaged wood scraps by a man incarcerated at Fresno Assembly Center in California.
In that same spirit of resourcefulness, Pat creates many of his table details from random bits and pieces of wood he happens to find. “Those tables are fun to make,” he says, and he never lets material go to waste, always finding ways to incorporate it into his finished pieces. “I never found a piece of wood I didn’t like,” he adds.
A Family of Creatives
Pat—who has a lifetime of experience working with wood, including repairing and restoring furniture as a young man in his hometown of Venice, California and eventually embarking on a long career as an independent woodworker—comes from a family of woodworkers, artisans, and musicians. His great-uncle from Germany was a master woodcarver, and Pat now owns many of his original tools and carvings. Four of Pat’s sisters formed The Lennon Sisters, a vocal group that performed regularly on the popular Lawrence Welk Show for almost two decades starting in 1955, and their father was a singer in the original Lennon Brothers. “My whole family is musical and can sing,” Pat says. “We’re very close.”
Pat himself is a guitarist and vocalist in the long-lived and very successful band Venice, named for his hometown and made up of Pat, his brother Kipp, and two cousins, Michael and Mark. The band, whose sound and harmonies have been likened to those of Crosby, Stills, & Nash; Steely Dan; and Paul Simon; has been together and performing since 1977, with Pat joining in 1980. A music-career highlight for Pat and his band was touring with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters for “The Wall Live” tour from 2010 to 2013.
Sometimes Pat’s woodworking career and his music career serendipitously intersect, and he is hired by famous musician friends to design and build their studios. “I did that for Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and J.D. Souther,” he says, reminiscing fondly about those particular jobs.
Having grown up blocks from the ocean, Pat surfed for much of his life, learning to shape and glass boards himself. These days he can still be found at El Porto most mornings “wallbending” alongside other vendors in the parking lot there, where he displays and sells his handmade miniature replica surfboards (pictured below) to locals and any other curious folks who wander by. These miniatures are exquisite in their complexity and detail, featuring intricate piecework and patterns and incorporating such unusual materials as zebra wood, grapefruit wood, and Hawaiian mango.
Pat creates full-size replica surfboards from wood also. These pieces of art are beautiful, gleaming, majestic, and reminiscent of boards used during the 1910s and 1920s. In Pat’s shop, he’s got an all-redwood full-size board in progress (pictured at end of story)—it’s a gorgeous, rich color and super-smooth to the touch. “The Hawaiian surfers of the early 20th century made their boards from redwood imported from the mainland,” he explains. “During that time in history, redwood boards were the standard.”
Pat has also made a full-size board from agave that he salvaged from El Porto beach (pictured above). The material, after months of drying, is very lightweight, like balsa wood, Pat explains.
Skill, Talent, Generosity
Pat’s woodwork reveals a reverence for the materials he uses and an appreciation of nature. His art beautifully leverages the grain, hue, and hardness of various natural materials, and he can almost always find a way to incorporate any wood scrap into his creations. As with surfing, “working with wood is calming and meditative,” Pat explains of his passion. “And, like making music, it uses the creative part of the brain.” Woodworking brings him great enjoyment, and he is generous with his talents, gifting nieces and nephews handmade wooden jewelry boxes and hand-making unique awards for local surf teams. Currently he is mentoring El Segundo resident, high-school swim coach, and Eagle’s Nest preschool teacher Dani Montrose, teaching her to use woodworking tools and turn her design ideas into finished pieces—in particular, surfboard fins. (See photo below.) “Pat is the most compassionate and kind-hearted human being I’ve ever met,” Dani says. “We met at El Porto when I was surfing there and he was wallbending, and after chatting a while, I asked if the two of us could work together to make a tail block for my board. We did that, and then Pat suggested making a fin to match the tail block. We did that, too, and since then, Pat has helped me turn several of my design ideas into additional fins.” She and Pat have been working with local board shapers interested in incorporating the fins into their boards.
“There just are not enough kind words to say about Pat Lennon,” Dani says of her very accomplished yet humble friend.
Learn more about Pat’s band, Venice, at venicetheband.com, and find him in person at El Porto most mornings. Some of Pat’s 10-inch handmade surfboards and additional works will be on display this coming October at Charles Smith’s Cruise Control Cambria gallery in Cambria.
Above, left: Pat with a handmade redwood surfboard and a handmade wooden jewelry box that holds wedding rings. Pat makes the jewelry boxes for family who get married. Center: Pat cuts wood into the start of a miniature surfboard. Right: Pat with his redwood board in progress.
This story appears in the June 2022 issue of The El Segundo Scene.