Prime time for pastimes: Georgians get busy finding old, new hobbies

Anil Joseph works on a side table for his daughter at his Marietta home. He is part of a wave of metro Atlantans who launched into hobbies during the pandemic. Many got more than what they expected out of it. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Anil Joseph works on a side table for his daughter at his Marietta home. He is part of a wave of metro Atlantans who launched into hobbies during the pandemic. Many got more than what they expected out of it. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Woodworking, cooking, crafting explode as lockdown kindles creativity

As a kid, he noticed how good furniture was pieced together. But even by the age of 47, Anil Joseph wasn’t confident he could do woodworking.

Then, during the pandemic, his 10-year-old son asked for a study table. Joseph watched online woodworking videos; still he hesitated for months. His wife told him he could do it. His son wanted to help. His 14-year-old daughter offered design suggestions.

And so the Cobb County father and business relationship manager for an IT company discovered deep into life, in the midst of a pandemic, that he could learn a new hobby.

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In their two-bedroom rented home near Marietta, he often sits working barefoot on the tile floor of his workspace — the tiny, six-foot by three-foot atrium by the front door — or outside, his new miter saw beside him. He built the study table. And work tables for colleagues, a storage bin for laundry and a bedside table.

Now, he and his wife plan to buy a house, and Joseph has a bigger plan: “Every single piece of furniture in that house is going to be made by me.”

Anil Joseph launched into a new hobby — woodworking — during the COVID-19 pandemic. His primary workspace is the tiny atrium by the front door of his family's rented home in Marietta. (SPECIAL)
Anil Joseph launched into a new hobby — woodworking — during the COVID-19 pandemic. His primary workspace is the tiny atrium by the front door of his family's rented home in Marietta. (SPECIAL)

The pandemic that closed so many doors over the last year also opened some. Metro Atlantans dove into new hobbies as they hungered for creative outlets and a remedy for boredom. For some, what at first seemed likely to be a short-term diversion turned into much more.

“It took me by surprise,” said Megan Keiper, a 40-year-old Gwinnett County mom and claims specialist who took up palette and paintbrush.

Without training in the arts, she considered painting by numbers sets, but felt the creativity and designs were lacking. So she tried watercolors, an unforgiving art form.

“I am not the most confident person,” Keiper said. And at first, “I really stunk at it.”

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She didn’t give up. Now, she’s finished at least five paid, commissioned paintings for people who saw artwork she posted online.

“It gave me confidence,” she said. And calm.

Nearly two-thirds of 2,000 Americans surveyed said they were spending more time on hobbies and odd jobs, according to a poll Ally Financial released in November. Reading, cooking, gardening and playing video games were most popular.

The Pew Research Center found about one-fourth of U.S. adults it surveyed in August and September described positive pandemic impacts on their free time. It also found, though, that the pandemic cut into the pastimes of many people.

“As much as that makes us nervous I think it makes us excited to commit to something that long, because we know it will only get bigger and we'll meet more people with the same interest as us."

- Kyle Garzon, who, during the pandemic, started a podcast with his wife Marilee

Three book clubs tied to A Cappella Books in Atlanta went on hiatus. But 15 others shifted to online gatherings, and four new clubs were added. Demand to join the clubs has increased three- or fourfold, with growing waiting lists for some, according to Loring Kemp, who manages the clubs.

Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia professor and atmospheric scientist who lives in Dacula, embarked on projects that hadn’t been on his radar before the pandemic. He self-published two books — one about race, the other on lessons from the pandemic lockdown — and started a third. He also launched into composting and gardening: “It feels like something I will do for the long haul,” he said.

AMERICANS PUMPED MORE MONEY INTO SOME HOBBIES AND PROJECTS DURING THE PANDEMIC

• Nashville-based SVP Worldwide, the parent of Singer and other sewing machine brands, said the company logged “unprecedented demand in 2020 with global demand exceeding supply well into 2021.”

• Michael’s, the arts and crafts giant, saw sales rise 3.9% compared to a year earlier, though many of its stores were temporarily shuttered early in the pandemic.

• Seed company Burpee said revenue was up in 2020, thanks to a rise in home gardening. It’s best selling seed: the Bodacious Tomato.

• Shipments of RVs jumped 6% in 2020, with a spike of nearly 50% in December compared to the month a year earlier, according to the RV Industry Association.

• Revenue from hunting and fishing licenses in Georgia increased 15% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Breadmaking boomed in 2020. So did sewing masks and virtually anything else. Families embraced board games and taught themselves chess. RV sales spiked. Demand for hunting and fishing licenses in Georgia increased 15%.

Sales of telescopes and remote control vehicles soared at Cliff Whitney’s shop, Atlanta Hobby, in Cumming. Demand hasn’t let up. Some products are on backorder until 2022, he said.

Painting inspiring messages on rocks and leaving them in public places grew in popularity. Demand picked up from hobbyist pen turners, who use lathes to make the bodies of pens, often out of wood. And there were the folks who got into making and provisioning squirrel tables.

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During the pandemic, Angela Hansberger of metro Atlanta began decorating a tiny outdoor picnic table and feeding a wild chipmunk she named Thelonious Munk. Hansberger, a freelance food and spirits writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, regularly posts photos of the chipmunk scenes online. (Photo courtesy of Angela Hansberger)
During the pandemic, Angela Hansberger of metro Atlanta began decorating a tiny outdoor picnic table and feeding a wild chipmunk she named Thelonious Munk. Hansberger, a freelance food and spirits writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, regularly posts photos of the chipmunk scenes online. (Photo courtesy of Angela Hansberger)

Angela Hansberger’s uncle saw one in a video online. So in April he made her one, a mini picnic table for feeding wild squirrels. Almost immediately a chipmunk discovered the tiny furniture.

“He was sitting there at the table, waiting like a little person,” said Hansberger, a freelance food and spirits writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Every day since, she has created decorated table themes and put out food for the chipmunk she has named Thelonious Munk.

“It centered me. It was kind of meditative,” she said.

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Hansberger posts photos of the chipmunk dining on Instagram. Strangers write, some thanking her for the joy the scenes brought them in difficult times.

The current surge of hobbies mirrors what happened during the Great Depression in the 1930s, said Stephen Mihm, a University Georgia professor.

The hunt for cheap entertainment led to a boom in stamp collecting, bird watching, backyard gardening and barbecuing in the yard, he said. The pastimes lasted long after the years of economic turmoil ended.

Marilee and Kyle Garzon used a spare bedroom in their Powder Springs home to launch a new hobby during the COVID-19 pandemic — a podcast discussing movies nominated for best picture Oscars over the decades. The podcast is called Once Upon A Time at the Oscars. (SPECIAL)
Marilee and Kyle Garzon used a spare bedroom in their Powder Springs home to launch a new hobby during the COVID-19 pandemic — a podcast discussing movies nominated for best picture Oscars over the decades. The podcast is called Once Upon A Time at the Oscars. (SPECIAL)

Kyle and Marilee Garzon said they are in for the long-haul with their hobby born during the pandemic.

Avid pre-pandemic moviegoers, the Powder Springs couple launched a plan to watch every movie ever nominated for an Oscar for best picture. To hold themselves accountable, they decided to create a weekly podcast, “Once Upon a Time at the Oscars,” to share their take on one film per episode.

They’ve completed about 35. Kyle figures that leaves about 500 to go. It could take them a decade.

“As much as that makes us nervous,” he said, “I think it makes us excited to commit to something that long, because we know it will only get bigger and we’ll meet more people with the same interest as us.”

Their podcast has attracted strangers from around the nation and world.

The husband and wife — he’s 31, she’s 28 — said they had each launched hobbies before the pandemic, but never stuck with them. Now, they’ve gained confidence with the podcast.

Marilee said the project became a way to express herself, and working together on the podcast has strengthened the couple’s relationship.

Anil Joseph works on a side table for his daughter at his Marietta home. Joseph says that he was not confident of his crafting skills before the pandemic. Now, he and his wife plan to buy a house, and he has a bigger plan: “Every single piece of furniture in that house is going to be made by me.” (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Anil Joseph works on a side table for his daughter at his Marietta home. Joseph says that he was not confident of his crafting skills before the pandemic. Now, he and his wife plan to buy a house, and he has a bigger plan: “Every single piece of furniture in that house is going to be made by me.” (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Meanwhile, Anil Joseph said he wishes he had started his foray into woodworking 15 years earlier. He’s also hoping it will be an example to his kids that they, too, can jump in to new interests.

He’s got ideas about the kind of furniture he wants to build for his future home: a dining room table, lots of cabinets, maybe a sofa. But, “the first thing will be my work bench.”