Holly boxes cut from a holly tree killed in Mount Holly in 1996

Back in 1996, as I was enjoying the Olympics in Atlanta, tornadoes ripped through Mount Holly, NJ. That’s right – tornadoes. Imagine my surprise when I saw that on the Weather Channel. I had parked my car there before traveling to Atlanta with a friend in an admittedly better car, and when I got back I discovered that the sudden pressure change had blown out my air conditioner. The tornado also snapped off many of the town’s eponymous holly trees, and blew them around the neighborhood.

The boxes you see are made from that wood. I think it’s fun to use the tree itself as a guide to design, since so many leaves are attractive and distinct. Holly’s tough to work. It’s hard and stringy, and it can heat up and burn when it’s cut with power tools, but the tight grain is very pretty and polishes well. The wood won’t stay this white forever – exposure to air and light will turn it butter yellow someday, but for now, it’s almost as pale as when I cut it open.

I’ll show these at the upcoming event in Metuchen, ‘Eat, Drink, and Buy Art’, this weekend. Here’s the link: The Borough Improvement League always runs a great event, so if you’re thinking of picking up some holiday gifts, stop by and see these very boxes and lots of other good stuff.

Fine Time for a Fairy Garden


It’s hard to get motivated about even the cutest fairy garden in the world when snow is falling on the leaves you didn’t rake up, but it’s not really my problem. This is a commission piece for a neighbor, and her yard is tidy. She’ll put it out in spring for her new grandchild. It’s about 18 inches wide, carved from a solid block of 2″ mahogany. Mahogany is not only water-resistant (the Coast Guard built cutters out of it for years), it’s also very pretty. It carves well. It’s not the smoothest wood, and most is too coarse for fine detail, but this is a big piece and tiny details wouldn’t read clearly from a distance, no matter what wood I used.

I wanted to show the grain and color of the wood, yet also incorporate color, since it’s a whimsical piece for a child. The pigment is good old Crayola watercolor paint. The top coat is also water based; I think that oil based spar varnish is tougher, but the waterbased finishes are crystal-clear, and all the oil finishes are yellow. They make the wood look richer, and they’d be fine over the leaves, but they’d make the violets brown and the border salmon. Audrey’s fairies do not like salmon.

This is intended for a little girl, of course. Do little boys like fairy gardens? Sure they do, until some bigger boy tells them they shouldn’t. So someday, if baby Audrey has a little brother who scorns violets, Grandma can add the Fairy Motocross, the Fairy Rock Climbing Wall, and the Fairy Skate Park.