A live art auction will benefit Palmer, following his severe motorcycle accident
When you walk into Devon Palmer's studio at the Columbus Idea Foundry, you'll likely notice a few details right away: walls painted bright orange (Palmer's favorite color); the painting of a naked man sitting on a hamburger (his “spirit animal”); and unfinished bowls, urns and sculptures (products of his woodturning craft). But perhaps the most meaningful item is the center table, constructed from a bowling alley lane.
“He got this specifically because people could stand around it, and we'll throw little get-togethers in here,” said Palmer's partner, Phil Borkow, who joined Palmer's friends around the table for a late-January interview. They told stories of Palmer making pizza using his onsite pizza oven, always with shots of Jameson on hand.
“This is more than just a studio,” Borkow said. “This is his place to just have everyone come and hang out.”
But Palmer's studio is quieter these days. On November 27, 2017, he was in a serious motorcycle accident that resulted in fractures to his left leg, two broken wrists and a fractured pelvis.
“There was a fear in the beginning that he wasn't going to make it,” Borkow said. “The orthopedic surgeon … told Devon that this is the worst damage he's ever seen to a pelvis in 25 years of his work.”
After about a month-long hospital stay and multiple surgeries, Palmer is recovering in a rehab facility. He has regained some mobility — he was recently able to put himself in a wheelchair — but he has a long way to go, Borkow said.
The good news is Palmer hasn't had to face his predicament alone. “It's a nonstop parade of people coming to see him, which he loves,” said Borkow, who helped organize the “Turn Devon Around Benefit Show,” taking place at the Columbus Idea Foundry on Saturday, Feb. 3. Proceeds from the live art auction will go to Palmer's medical care.
“He doesn't have much connection with family,” Borkow continued. “He makes [it] very, very clear that the community here in Columbus is who he's chosen to surround himself with.”
The LGBT and “bohemian art community” is what drew Palmer to Columbus from Indiana in 2002. Besides his own woodturning creations, which must sit for up to three years, Palmer teaches classes at Woodcraft of Columbus and the local chapter of the American Association of Woodturners.
Palmer explained his love for the arts community on a call from the rehab facility. “It's just full of expression and creativity and authenticity, [with] people bearing very real and private parts of them,” he said. “It takes a lot of character and a lot of bravery to do that, and I just really admire those things.”
Palmer is determined to be “almost back to normal” in June for the Columbus Arts Festival, where he has been a memorable presence, teaching attendees how to make their own pens.
“He comes for the whole weekend and stays from open to close all three days,” said Tona Pearson, an independent event organizer and friend. “He keeps frozen pouches of applesauce and when we look tired, he'll just come and drop one near us.”
“And Klondike Bars,” Borkow added. “He's known for his cooler of Klondike bars. He'll wander around events here in Franklinton, like [on] the Fourth of July, … and hand them out.”
“He's one of the most gregarious people I've ever met,” Pearson said. “He's just always happy. Even when he's frustrated, he's happily frustrated because he has something to work out now.”
Palmer has even remained upbeat in the midst of his recovery. “Even when the accident happened, the nurses were freaked out because he's telling his bad dad jokes,” Borkow said. “Literally an hour after the accident, [he's] just laying there saying, ‘You know what, I'm alive and we'll get through this.'”
And the benefit has certainly buoyed his spirits. “It really made me feel good that someone would go out of their way to do something like this because normally, it's me doing something like this,” Palmer said.
The response was so overwhelming that the location had to be changed from the smaller Vanderelli Room to the Idea Foundry. With over 70 pieces of donated art, organizers had to turn artists away. And, as part of the live entertainment, Movement Activities Aerial Dance will perform a new piece choreographed for Palmer.
But it's not the help Palmer stands to gain from the benefit, which he hopes to attend in his wheelchair, that has him excited.
“This event's going to have, in my humble opinion, some of the city's most spectacular, burgeoning artists,” Palmer said. “[You] don't have to come out for me, but just come out and appreciate the art.”