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Artist Spotlight: making the old new again

Sarah Moss, left, and Dianne Monroe, right, stand with a display of their work. One of Monroe's driftwood crosses hangs beside a key holder made from reclaimed wood and an old door knob, while examples of their coat racks and Moss' love boxes are to the right. C. D. Moore photos
Sarah Moss, left, and Dianne Monroe, right, stand with a display of their work. One of Monroe’s driftwood crosses hangs beside a key holder made from reclaimed wood and an old door knob, while examples of their coat racks and Moss’ love boxes are to the right. C. D. Moore photos

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

For some, woodworking is about cabinetry, furniture and carpentry. However, for artisans Dianne Monroe and Sarah Moss, of Barefoot Woods, woodworking is about creating something new and beautiful out of the old and worn.

Under the charge of “wonderful things made with old stuff by two old women,” Monroe and Moss use reclaimed wood, door knobs, hooks, nails and more to bring the new to pieces that might have, otherwise, been left behind.

“We do all sorts of things,” Monroe said. “Our primary thing, though, is taking old things and making beautiful stuff out of it.”

Of their “old things,” Monroe and Moss have created revitalized pieces of furniture – such as an end table made from an antique ironing board and a coat rack made from a car emblem and pistons – bird houses, key holders, mirror frames and more.

In addition to their revitalized pieces, each woodworker specializes in her own separate and unique craft.

For Monroe, her speciality is driftwood crosses.

Using wood pulled from Louisiana waters, Monroe scrubs each piece with wire brushes to remove any sand and mud that may have been trapped in the wood’s grooves while out at sea. From there, she splits the wood to the size she wants, and uses band saws and hand sanders to shape the piece.

A small saw is then used to create grooves in each piece of the cross in order to fit them together. The pieces are then bound using polyurethane. Some of the crosses have a 100-year-old square-headed nail added to the groove.

“There’s a story behind the nail,” she explained. “As I was working on a base piece, I cut the groove a little larger than I had intended. I didn’t want to give up on the piece, and in trying to figure out how to salvage it, I happened to see one of the nails. I fit the nail into the groove – just to see what it looked like – and it looked fabulous. I don’t use nails all the time, but sometimes I do.”

While a majority of the crosses available at the 4th Avenue Gallery do not include the nail, you can find a few there that have the added touch.

Moss, on the other hand, crafts delicate little “love boxes” out

Attached to each "Love Box" is an original poem, written by Moss, and inside, a feather, a stone and a seashell to represent the earth, sky and sea. One of Moss' favorite uses was for an engagement ring.
Attached to each “Love Box” is an original poem, written by Moss, and inside, a feather, a stone and a seashell to represent the earth, sky and sea. One of Moss’ favorite uses was for an engagement ring.

of birch branches.

Keeping the small section of branch natural, Moss drills a small hole into each box and fills them a small feather, a colorful stone, and a miniature sea shell. Using raffia, a short poem, written by Moss, explains the contents and it is tied to the outside of the box:

“This little box contains
part of the earth, sky, and sea,
and the rest is filled with love
for you from me.”

To add to the box’s charm, Moss has carved a tiny heart into the bark.

“One of the nicest things that has ever happened with my little boxes happened at the Harvest Festival,” she recalled. “I had a young man run up and ask me to set a box aside. I did, and when he came back a little later, he told me he wanted to get it to put his girlfriend’s engagement ring in. That was pretty special for me.”

Each artist has a different story as to how they got started, and for Moss, woodworking was – and continues to be – part of her family’s ancestral history.

“It’s in my blood,” she commented. “I’ve been working with wood since I was a child.”

Moss’ ancestors found their skill in cabinetmaking, and her great-grandfather was the owner and operator of a Louisiana lumber mill. Her grandfather might have been an eye doctor, but she recalls fond memories of her childhood, of following him around with her very own tiny tool set, and assisting in the construction of chicken houses.

Monroe’s introduction to woodworking began later in life. The majority of her career was spent working in physical therapy, but after taking a course in woodworking, Monroe fell in love. In time, she went on to open her own workshop, and it was through a mutual friend that Monroe and Moss met.

“I had my own workshop at the time,” Moss recalled, “and she had her own. Over time, we decided to combine them and have been working together ever since.”

The Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op operates out of the 4th Avenue Gallery – located at 721 Fourth Avenue in Marlinton – and is open Wednesday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery can be reached at 304-799-2550.

Second in a series of spotlights highlighting artisans within the county.

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