Most people believe Santa lives at the North Pole. I think, however, the case could be made that he might be living as Leonard Olson in Pocahontas. White beard? Check. Twinkle in the eye? Check. Jolly old soul? Check. Toy maker? Check.
Leonard owns and operates The Kaleidoscope Factory in downtown Pocahontas. A heart attack back in the 1990's caused him to reassess his life and work in the computer programming business. Friends had brought him a kaleidoscope while he was recovering in the hospital. He saw what simple joy it brought people who visited him. He often says, “It’s really hard not to smile when you’re looking through a kaleidoscope.”
He opted to slow down his life and turned to woodworking. That hobby turned into a business making kaleidoscopes.
I’ve been intrigued by Leonard since I first heard about him. Visiting his shop has been on my Iowa “want-to-do” list for years. I finally made it there in October. It did not disappoint.
Upon entering his colorful workshop/studio/storefront, I could immediately smell the scent of fresh cut wood. Piles of wood shavings on the floor under his lathe added to the character of the shop.
He offered to show me how he makes an egg-shaped kaleidoscope in less than fifteen minutes. Of course, I took him up on the offer. On the lathe, the small block of wood transformed into a beautiful egg shape in less than five minutes. We then moved over to a table where I selected the beads for the end of the instrument. Sure enough, under fifteen minutes, we’d completed a gorgeous kaleidoscope.
He makes other shapes and sizes as well. A popular style uses corn at the end instead of beads. Others utilize large marbles or water and shells.
In addition to kaleidoscopes, Leonard also makes wooden cribbage boards, pull toys, puzzles, cars, airplanes, and more. Just like Santa. Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not.