I had an idea for this 6′ x 2′ metal frame even before I purchased it from my buddy’s pickup truck. (These encounters in parking lots must look super shady…)
Metal frame + matte paint + barnwood = a German Beer Hall Table.
Yep. More agony art.
I had an idea for this 6′ x 2′ metal frame even before I purchased it from my buddy’s pickup truck. (These encounters in parking lots must look super shady…)
Metal frame + matte paint + barnwood = a German Beer Hall Table.
Yep. More agony art.
The carnies are in town! That means weekends full of free music fests, rides, bands, fireworks, games…you name it.
My busy show season also kicked off in Montauk around the same time the carnivals came to Vermont. Vendors from the northeast sold their hand-crafted items in a juried fair just steps from the beach and within walking distance of downtown. If you’ve been to Montauk, you know that there’s a huge wait list for camping at Hither Hills, and camping is at a premium. Shockingly, vendors were allowed to camp right on the show grounds for a crazy low price. Tents, u-hauls, and campers dotted the perimeter of the historic grounds, tucked among the trees. Vendors congregated at the end of the show days like a bunch of carnies, displaced for the weekend but part of some dysfunctional family all living in close proximity to each other out of our respective vehicles while peddling our wares during the daylight hours.
If you think about it, traveling to do shows is a lot like living the life of a carnival worker. It can be full of adventure, road trips, great for business, and…exhausting. I’m doing something new this show season; I’ve mostly pursued being a part of large, juried shows instead of the small town ones. That means being on the road almost every weekend in September and October. And after selling out of pallet furniture in just one show at Montauk and not being able to get my act together to build a lot in the winter and spring, I need to start building up a huge stock of inventory in the upcoming month.
And it’ll mostly be large pieces like these.
Tables. Benches. Chairs. That’s what sells at shows. Unfortunately, that means the pieces are large and heavy. For years now, people buy an item from me and try to drag it to their cars with a strange look on their face: pure joy for purchasing the one of the kind reclaimed wood piece mixed with an equal amount of pain while trying to figure out how to get the heavy item not only IN their vehicles but then into their homes.
My work recently gotten the nickname “agony art” by a fellow artist who had a booth space across from me who watched customers leave my booth with purchases all day long.
Every year during the show season, I vow to build smaller and lighter stuff for my sake while traveling and setting up and also for my customers.
It’s not happening. Build what you love and build what people want. Looks like agony art is going to be around for awhile.
These tables are made from reclaimed barn wood and fence pieces. All different sizes and styles and finishes will be available at the upcoming shows. For more information as to where you can find these pieces at shows this summer and fall, please visit the show schedule link on the home page.
You never know who you are going to meet through Craigslist.
Heading back to the farm in the Adirondacks yesterday to get more barn wood from the farmer and his wife I met a few months ago on Craigslist felt more like a trip to see an old friend than a work day.
A few months ago, I had responded to an ad online to get barn wood from a farm on a windy ridge that had lost its 200+-year old barn in a recent storm. The whole thing collapsed on itself just days prior. I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I got there; sometimes these things end up being wild goose chases or you see where the listing takes you and it’s best to just keep driving by if you don’t have a wingman with you. (For those of you who think I’m too naive and trusting, have no fear – I always have a wingman when answering Craigslist ads. Because yes. I’m too naive and trusting.) But the old farmer was kind and generous. And while it broke my heart to see that this hard-working man had lost his barn, I was glad that the wood wasn’t going to go to waste and rot on the ridge, and he was just as happy to get rid of it.
And he said he was doing ok, thanks to one of these being on his property.
The barn was huge. This is what it looked like before the storm.
And then after.
Upon arrival on the farm yesterday, the farmer had done the hard work; a pile of beautiful barn wood siding was waiting next to the barn, and he said to take it all.
“People have come to get some of the easier to reach stuff since you were last here,” he said. “A lot of young people.” He paused, and then smiled crookedly. “Well, everyone’s young compared to me.”
He then climbed over the gate and disappeared in the pasture to gather hay for the nine cows he said were wandering around somewhere.
It’s people like that who redeem my faith in humanity. The salt of the earth, friends. Found free on Craigslist, of all places.
Two weeks before the 4th of July holiday, I received a request for a custom bench that was needed the beginning of July for a family gathering on the shores of Lake St. Catherine.
I usually steer clear of rush orders for my own sanity. But then the customer told me why he needed them so fast. Earlier this year they lost their brother, and they always gather twice a year at their house in Vermont as a family. He wanted the bench to be a surprise for his family and something symbolic for them as they gather around the fire pit at night. I knew it wasn’t something I’d pass on. We quickly agreed on a design for two matching benches out of a beautiful slab of cherry and I got to work.
Not knowing this family or the property it would be going on, I went with my instinct. I had no idea the patriarch of the family was a woodworker when I decided on plugs. Going with my gut on how to attach the legs to the bench top paid off.
I asked him if he’d like anything wood burned into the benches since they were symbolic for the family. At that point, he informed me that the second bench was in memory of his mother, who also had passed away. Both benches were a surprise for the family.
By now, there was a quiet reverence (and a lump in my throat) while I worked in the shop on these. I felt humbled and honored and grateful to be commissioned to create these.
As many of my own family memories were of us gathering in Vermont twice a year around a campfire, not far from where this order was delivered, I know how cherished, chaotic, unpredictable, and precious that time together is.
The brother tells his story best:
(Their dad thought that the benches were too nice to keep out by the fire pit, so they are now in the family room where the family gathers together in winter.)
To this family…thank YOU.
There’s a magical pine grove near the heart of Manchester, Vermont in the shadow of Mount Equinox. It hugs the main drag and is hard to miss because of its beauty and size: leggy trees so tall that branches start at least twenty feet off the ground and so old that there is a soft carpet of pine needles dense enough that no other vegetation creeps up through it. Not a weed. Not a flower. Nada. The only thing you can glimpse is an old white farmhouse down a dirt driveway to the side of the grove, so far back that you can barely see it past the tree trunks.
While it’s beautiful to drive past during daylight hours, my favorite since I was a kid has always been to glimpse it in the winter months at night. Then, the grove would be dark but Christmas lights would illuminate this perfect little tree no more than 4 feet tall. Although it registered in my brain some time ago that nothing else grows on that forest floor, I never questioned the small pine tree in the middle of it. I also never questioned why it didn’t seemed to grow year after year, even as I did. I just looked forward to seeing it every winter.
Sometimes we just want to see the good in something. Doesn’t matter if our facts don’t quite add up; there’s comfort in keeping rose-colored glasses on with certain things for one reason or another that only the person wearing the glasses may ever know or understand why he or she doesn’t want to take them off. It doesn’t hurt to ask “why” questions, but there’s a delicate balance with that for an idealist like me because once you have answers to the questions, you can’t go back to not knowing. And sometimes those answers make someone cynical. Which happened in my case.
Curiosity got the best of me while driving through town the other day. Why did this little tree not grow? Why was it the only other living thing growing in a forest of giants?
Well, turns out the perfect little tree is…dead.
Not like in the process of losing its needles or slightly brown or something that Charlie Brown would be proud of, but more like the owners in the old farmhouse took out their Christmas tree from the house in January of 1990 something or other, shoved it in the ground and staked it up to make sure it didn’t topple over. Slap some Christmas lights on there in the winter months and wallah! They made something magical for naive people like me who never glanced at the tree in the daylight. FOR DECADES.
I managed not to crash my truck at the sight. I wanted to cry. I felt deceived.
It’s hard for me to shake things. So naturally, this sad little tree has been on my mind since said revelation.
It took building this piece to get it.
My dad gave me his old Brazilian guitar almost 15 years ago. It’s been one of my most cherished possessions, even though I’m still (and probably always will be) an amateur musician. The sound was so rich, it gave me goosebumps even while I fumbled through chords as a self-taught guitar player. It’s over 30-years old. I remember the life lesson that came with the guitar. “It’s a classical guitar with steel strings, not nylon. We could switch it to nylon, but I recommend you try it with steel. Because if you learn the hard way first, everything else will be much easier.”
I grumbled as my fingers became hot and raw from strumming. I cracked a smile when callouses formed. I grinned when I picked up a friend’s nylon-stringed guitar later and it seemed like no work at all. While my dad was referring to the difference between steel and nylon strings, its application to the rest of life wasn’t lost on me. This became something that ran through my head when I had choices to make, like learning to paddle on a ISUP and taking it out on rough water for over a year before switching to an easier board.
What an invaluable life lesson. (Thanks, Dad, whether it was intentional or not.)
The guitar recently cracked at the neck. I was beyond bummed. It would cost more to fix it than to buy a new guitar. I couldn’t part with it. It still was beautiful, but it just wouldn’t play beautiful music anymore. It would forever be out of tune.
So I did what any woodworker would do (or balk at) and drilled a hole through the back, inserted an electrical cord with an LED candle light, and mounted it to the wall. In the daylight, it’s beautiful. Natural.
And at night, it gives off a warm glow.
Circle back around. That beautiful grove in Manchester? You can’t decorate any of the old pine trees; they are too tall. But at night, you can’t see the grove or the beauty of it. Similarly, only someone who knows that little dead tree is there can spot it in the daylight. But at night, when you can’t see the rest of the grove, this perfect, dead, lit tree provides some random happiness in the dark forest and is downright beautiful on an otherwise black canvas.
As Aesop said, “Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either.”
I was going to include a picture of the grove and the little tree, but while some “why’s” are no longer “why’s,” I can still put on my rose-colored glasses, as busted as they may be, and continue to pass this tree and look at its dead branches and cling to the magical beauty of this two-sided grove, knowing that, while people may know OF this tree, they don’t know the exact location. And while my interpretation of the grove may be nothing but a fable, I’m satisfied with the answer to my “why.” For another few decades at least…
This little tree and this old classical guitar remind me that sometimes the most important life lessons are learned the hard way. Never, EVER take the short cut, as tempting as it may be. And don’t be so quick to judge something, even if you think you’ve known what it’s all about. You may be surprised to discover something beautiful that you have been missing out on.
The guitar: priceless. While it’s not for sale, it now graces the wall of the guest room at mi casa.
I’ve loved horses since seeing “The Black Stallion” as a kid. A quiet kid and his horse. Bonded by what happened in Africa. It couldn’t get any more poignant to a child like me, obsessed with Africa and wildlife.
I love Africa with all my heart. I love being quiet. I love horses.
Unfortunately, horses do not love me.
When I went to an equine camp in upstate New York one pre-teen summer, I don’t remember much about camp, other than playing soccer. (That tells you a lot right there.) Fast forward to high school. While working in Belize one summer, I was riding a horse through the jungle when something spooked it (tarantula? Scorpion? Choose your own adventure…) and it took off. I thought I was going to meet Jesus via death by canter until the horse came to a screeching halt in the field after barging out of the jungle. My friend helped calm the horse down. The horse stopped when he wanted but also listened to said friend. Me? I had no control.
My last experience was while in inpatient treatment for the ED. They had something in that remote town in Arizona called “equine therapy.” Pretty much you get paired by your treatment team with a horse who they think will be “good” for you, and you spend time grooming it, riding in the desert and stuff. I had visions of “cantering in control” with a black stallion, blowing past cacti and tumbleweed, blonde hair billowing in the breeze along with its black mane. It was one of the reasons why I looked forward to going there (as much as anyone looks forward to going to inpatient for a month and a half).
I watched as my friends got paired with the pretty horses. The calm ones. The ones with cute names. And then it was my turn. I was so excited; an idiotic grin was plastered to my face. Finally.
“Mel, you’re going to get Tigger.”
I blinked. The smile was now creepily frozen on my face. You know the look; lips turned up while the corners start to turn down as reality sets in and you can’t will your mind to close your mouth. Therefore, your upper and lower teeth are protruding, bared in some psychotic wolverine look. Yep. Tigger. His name said it all. My face said it all.
His reputation preceded him. He knew I didn’t want him and feared him. And he seemed to be amused by it.
The next few weeks were a constant battle of the wills on the trails and in the arena. What I thought would be the highlight of my hospital stay turned into what I dreaded most out of my meticulously scheduled day. Weigh me daily. Take away my hairspray and Listerine and deem it contraband. Check on me to make sure I’m not doing squats in the bathroom. Just don’t make me stay with Tigger.
Oh, I had to stay with Tigger. Then there was the “show,” where we had to demonstrate our equine abilities to family/loved ones who were in for “Family Week” in an arena. Tigger and I beat to our own drum. My parents still have the photos of that horrible day up in their kitchen, completely unaware that I fought that dang horse the entire show. And he won said battle. Every time I pass that picture, I remember. I can tell how frustrated I was in that photo. But I realize that, as a chameleon, most people wouldn’t have known I detested not only that horse, but my team for pairing me with him and making me stay with him. “You’ll learn to use your voice, Mel.” It took a decade to realize that they were right to put me with such a beast. And it’s because of Tigger and their attempt to teach me something that I didn’t know I needed growth on that I recently started a new chapter in my life.
I’ve been working with a local equine rescue here in Vermont. I don’t believe things happen by chance. “Coincidence is God’s way of working a miracle anonymously.” After my first month of recovery, I found myself asking, “Now what?” I was ready to start adding things back into my life, now that I had more time and energy to do so. The local paper had something about the need for volunteers at this nonprofit, so I emailed to get more info. I haven’t looked back.
I’ve stumbled upon an instant community, bonded together by the desire to help out but also the common understanding that sunshine is a gift that most people take for granted in the rest of the U.S. and life here in Vermont can be taxing beyond comprehension. I’ve been craving the connection that only females understand, and many women working at the rescue have shared the same feeling. It’s been the perfect place to connect with other females who are introverted, love horses, yet wonder where all the other women are at. (I wondered that for nine long months. Working in a predominantly male field and not having children, you really wonder where the other women are at. Now I know. The equine rescue!) Ironically, almost all of them are also artists. Photographers, jewelry makers, and more. I often shake my head at how good God is. He knew just what I needed. And when. And waited until I was ready, knowing that when pushed, I often run far the other way.
I can’t say enough about this place. “Not what I was; not yet what I will be…” When I’m happily shoveling poop, this runs through my head. These horses have been through a LOT. The founder intercepts many of the horses from kill buyers. Gives them a new lease on life. A chance for a second home, one where they’ll be cared for and loved. The nonprofit is “dedicated to rescuing equines, restoring their health and wellness, and providing a natural environment in which they can heal both physically and mentally until they can be adopted into their forever homes.”
Their mission isn’t lost on a lost cause like me. And it’s hard not to be happy when you pull up to the farm and are greeted by three extremely social and lovable miniature horses who are the reason why this rescue started.
Meet Daisy, Duke, and Bo.
Recently, I was asked to build fences at the rescue around two ancient maples that the new horses decided to munch on.
I was a little worried that Foster and Sheila would be pissed at me for blocking off their new chew toy. And like with Tigger, I’m pretty sure Foster could tell that I was a bit fearful of him stampeding me while my hands were full of power tools.
He’d come over often to check out what the heck I was doing. And then walk away.
I’ve been able to drive in and out with Taco (my Tacoma truck), secure the gate, and they don’t even care anymore. I was warned they may try to run out when I drive in. But they don’t. It’s like they have associated Taco as an extension of me, and they’re cool with it.
I have a healthy respect for the horses here, and I’m finally to the place where I also respect and appreciate Tigger and the treatment team, and what they were trying to accomplish to help me. They knew what I needed. I just had a defiant spirit, determined to hold on to the last few things I thought I could, even though I knew deep down that I wasn’t giving it all over with an open hand. I wish I had trusted in the process more, but here’s to second chances. Better to learn a decade later than not at all.
At the end of most days, I’m physically exhausted. My muscles scream at me from work at the rescue and work at home. I’m in the middle of prepping for the busy show season, I’m remodeling the cabin on a whim to chase a lifelong dream, and I’m at the rescue a few days a week, around amazing animals and equally-amazing women. But my days are full, and I am happy. I am happy. I tear up writing that. It’s been so long since I have felt that. A loved one recently told me they could hear the joy in my voice when I talked about the rescue. Yes. For someone like me, as much as I need alone time and a certain level of spontaneity in each day, I also need a bit of a schedule and companionship. To be able to rest my head on the pillow at the end of the day, knowing it was full. Not just of things I wanted to get done, but things that help others. I crave serving. It’s in my blood. I wasn’t a born leader; I was born wanting to serve others. (I’m not talking about indentured servitude here, people. According to some digging my family has recently done on our family tree, we have discovered we came to America as white slaves, with young William Simcox being taken off the streets in England at age 12 and forced to come to America; a classic example of enslavement of Europeans by non-Europeans. So for those of you who said I was from noble decent because of the bump in my nose, I have to break it to you. I’m far from that. I fell down the basement stairs and broke it. No noble blood here. But so proud of how my family fought to get to where they are. Tangent. ANYWAYS.)
God knew. The timing. The nonprofit. The work. The place. The impact it is having to push me into the next phase of my recovery. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, and if i think too much about it, it overwhelms me. But for today, I am content. And thankful. I am going to my parents’ house this weekend for Father’s Day. I will see the photo of Tigger and me. It will have taken a decade to not just see that crazy horse in the photo, but to also see that my best friends from treatment are in the background. By my side. Knowing the crap we’ve been through that most people will never, ever realize. This time, I will smile. Ah, Tigger. Thanks, bud. I finally get it.
I’ve found my voice.
Only one question remains. A classic bumper sticker question.
Who rescued who?
Please consider donating to the Dorset Equine Rescue. Or going to their ball, which is being held July 9th in Manchester, Vermont. I can’t think of a better weekend to visit the Green Mountain State. For more information, please visit http://www.dorsetequinerescue.org.
It’s helpful to know a bit about a client when you are asked to make a custom order for them. In this table’s case, I’ve been in their home; I know their style.
I also know that she could have easily been an interior designer if she wanted.
Her style is like none I’ve ever seen: a modern twist on colonial Williamsburg (is what comes to my mind). It’s absolutely beautiful. She has an eye for design, and knew what she wanted while trusting me to create something that would fit her style and add value to their already beautifully-designed home.
We collaborated together to pick out the legs, a beautiful pair of cast-iron pieces that I purchased from a friend who is fueling my love of wood-meets-industrial streak. It’s a win-win since he owns a shop that holds salvaged treasures and I’m constantly looking for a one of a kind salvaged base for my next project. (Check out Green Peak Elements in Manchester, Vermont if you are looking for something unusual! He has the most awesome stuff in his store.)
Since I know the client loves barn wood, I decided to use some of my most prized stash of “blue barn wood” (I have no idea what it’s called, but the rough side looks blue to me, and the reverse side, when sanded and treated with Waterlox or oil, is absolutely amazing) from the Adirondack barn, and created a design where it would rest on a primary beam and two supporting beams that would only accent the design. I cut the beam intentionally so that the the presence of the original nail in the structure was visible on the end.
The planks were sealed with many coats of Waterlox.
And then delivered with love and some muscle to its new home.
This is by far one of my FAVORITE custom order builds.
If you have been dreaming about a piece that you’d like in your home, please send me an email with a photo! I’d love to work with you to create it.