If you're looking for something to add pizzazz to a room that's "kinda blah," do I have a tip for you! There's a tiny new shop named WOODSWORK out in the wilds of East Otto, and it's cram-packed with unique wood-carvings, large and small.
Yes, I know, "unique" is a much abused word, but it's definitely accurate when describing Dug Stein and his creations. Every item this talented woodcarver shapes is truly one-of-kind, whether it's a two-foot high horse head, or a three-inch Santa, or maybe a hound sprawling half-under a bench or a fox cautiously poking his nose up to test the wind.
"Sometimes I get into a mood where I want to keep doing one kind of animal over and over," says Dug. "One might have his ears cocked, while the next is looking over his shoulder. They just keep changing. That's the fun."
Dug Stein stands outside the shop he constructed last summer.
"A little while back, I got into a real Santa Claus mode--just couldn't stop making 'em--all shapes and sizes--all with different expressions on their faces. It all depends on the wood," he finishes with a laugh.
Dug's a little hesitant about allowing access to his workshop. "It's a mess," he apologizes, as he opens the door to a rather pleasing muddle of bark, branches and burls. On one side of a blue tarp divider, there's an impressive collection of power tools, used mostly for his finish carpentry business. On the other, resides a long bench littered with coffee cans holding simpler utensils like knives, gouges, chisels--even an antique barking spud. These are the magical instruments that help him shape the distinctive characters that populate his showroom.
He explains (sort of) how he works. Every time he walks by his woodpile, he eyes it up, looking for the piece that craves attention. Once that chunk is finally in his hand, he spends some time just looking it over. "You need to see what's in there," he explains. Then, and only then, does he begin to "set the critter free."
Dug has always had a knack for seeing beauty in ordinary objects. As a kid, he scavenged cloudy old bottles out of the farm "dumps" that once dotted the countryside. While excavating bottles, he'd run into rocks, of course, and usually he'd cart a few of those home, too. Gradually his room filled up with these and other things, twisted roots--gnarled branches, whatever pleased his eye, and gradually, he amassed quite an accumulation of "stuff." (Interestingly, this collection occupies a sizeable space in his present-day living room.)
Most kids outgrow their hobbies, and for a while, Dug did--more or less. He worked with his brother, Wayne, as a building contractor for a number of years. At the start, he found great satisfaction in building homes out of wood and stone and brick. These were, after all, materials he loved.
"But once I'd learned the process, there didn't seem to be much reason to keep doing it over and over," he confesses, and soon he found himself seriously rethinking his life. "Somehow, I just couldn't see myself dangling off the edges of roofs for very much longer. I wanted to spend my time doing things that made me content."
About that time Dug discovered one creative outlet playing harmonica and singing with a group called Moss Creek. A little later he joined some other kindred souls to form the Blue Mule Band, a popular bluegrass group that plays many of their gigs in the Ellicottville area.
Meanwhile, he moved away from whole-house construction to the exacting job of finish work. Maybe it was his increased focus on the wood's grain and contour, but somehow he saw more clearly those elusive "critters," and without really thinking about it, he started carving.
"Actually I guess you'd say I started carving more," he corrects. "I've been whittling ever since I was a kid, but this was the first time, I ever thought about trying to make a living from it."
If you feel drawn to explore this unusual new business, your biggest challenge will be finding it. To say that it's "out of the way" is an understatement. WOODSWORK is located on Safford Road, which connects Reid Hill Road with Scott Corners Road, which in turn, is an offshoot of County Road 12. If you have a GPS, just enter the address (8253 Safford Road) and let that big guidepost in the sky steer you in. Think of it as an adventure.
Hurry though, because Dug plans to close the store between Christmas and April 1. "I'm going to concentrate on whittling some more inventory," he explains. "But I'll gladly open by appointment. Just call 257-9642."