Tyrone Williams, 75, chess enthusiast who handcrafted game sets from wood

March 05, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Tyrone Williams had a special way of unwinding each evening. In the basement of his East Baltimore home, he'd outline the silhouettes of chess pieces onto a 2-by-4 piece of wood and slowly carve the designs.

Each piece took several days to complete, but once finished a handcrafted set was the envy of chess players throughout Baltimore -- many of whom offered a hefty sum for the handiwork.

Mr. Williams died of cancer Saturday at his home. He was 75. He had always refused to sell his works. Playing chess and making chess sets were hobbies, something he didn't want to associate with money.

"He thought he wouldn't enjoy making them if making a profit went along with it. He'd feel as though he had to make them," bTC said his son, Gerald Williams, of Baltimore. "If anything, if someone wanted a set of his real bad and was sincere, he'd give it to them and make another one."

Because Mr. Williams didn't use a mold or cast, no two of his chess sets were exactly alike. He painted each piece and included details with varying colors so they would not appear the same.

"He'd put a lot of thought into how a piece should look. He'd look into books of medieval times and see what kind and color of attire they wore," his son said. "This was the basis for a lot of his chess pieces."

For instance, a bishop on one set is dressed in full body armor painted silver with red trim. The helmet is also silver, but adorned with a red feather. On another piece, a knight rides a spotted horse with a striped mane.

But the queen was his favorite piece, and no two ever had the same style or color of gown. His queens also were of varying heights and weights.

"I'm sure that some queens were a little chunky, and his reflected that," said Robert Wennington, a longtime friend.

"He told me once that he would like to see how a queen looked wearing a mini [skirt], but I think he was just too serious about chess to do that."

A native of Richmond, Va., Mr. Williams moved to Baltimore in the late 1940s and began working at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant in Sparrows Point. He retired in 1985. He married Danese Evans in 1948; she died in 1980.

Mr. Williams was an avid chess player, often spending much of his spring and summer days in matches at War Memorial Plaza and Druid Hill Park.

While many of the players put wagers on their matches, Mr. Williams played for fun.

"He was a student of the game, meaning that he watched others better than him and read [chess] books," said Randolph Myers, a friend. "He'd win more than he lost, but he'd play at any time -- win or lose."

Services are scheduled for Friday in Richmond, Va.

Other survivors include two brothers, Vernon Williams of Richmond and Chauncey Williams of Washington, D.C.; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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