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October 2010

Minor Masterpieces

Teensy twigs for the tabletop great camp

Photograph by Matt Paul

To hear Donna Wormwood tell it, Adirondack Rustic Miniatures (518-623-9654) all began as a joke played on her husband, Richard. He’d been admiring rustic furniture at craft fairs where Donna sold baskets, wildlife drawings and other handmade items. “They didn’t fit our budget,” Donna chuckles, “so one day I went outside, collected some sticks and built him a chair about three inches high.” After they enjoyed a good laugh over Richard’s new “chair,” he suggested that she set it out at her next show. It sold.

Encouraged, she made mini chairs, settees, coffee tables and bookcases. Eager shoppers snapped them up. To meet the needs of collectors, Donna began making items to scale (one foot to one inch) and half-scale. Her inventory grew to include sideboards, beds, dining tables with teeny plates of food and vases of itsy-bitsy flowers—more than 50 pieces in assorted styles. Richard, who has also worked as a guide and conservation officer, be­gan building tiny log cabins, lean-tos and scale replicas of Adirondack Great Camps, such as Du­rant’s Pine Knot on Raquette Lake. He then added can­oes, guideboats, snowshoes, fishing creels, even archery sets complete with flint arrowheads.

As word of their new venture spread, the Wormwoods were invited to exhibit at juried craft shows from Maine to Virginia, winning a bouquet of first-place and best-in-show ribbons. Dec­ades after that first tiny chair, Richard and Donna, now 74 and 53, respectively, sell to dealers across the country and have shipped pieces internationally as far away as Japan.

The fields and forests near the pair’s Thurman home provide a treasure trove of materials: lichens, turkey-tail fungus, beechnut burrs, knapweed seed heads, kernels and nuts, blossoms and bark. “Goldenrod galls make woodstoves and wood baskets,” Donna says. “A hollowed-out acorn base makes a punch bowl. The top, with the stem end slightly ground down, makes a plate or soup bowl. Grapevine curlicues make drawer pulls and handles for mugs or pitchers.” The couple uses only dead and downed materials—“We don’t kill anything,” says Richard.

Twigs of maple, ash, birch and beech, among many others, form the framework for most pieces, and rustic dressers, bookcases and hutches are faced with birch bark. Richard and Donna spend hours cutting, carving and gluing the one-of-a-kind collectibles, which range in price from $25 to thousands, depending on size.

Adversity sidelined the Wormwoods’ work for a time, first when fire destroyed their home in 2004 and, more recently, when Rich­ard suffered heart problems, from which he is slowly recuperating. Now they look forward to more craft and collectible shows, including the Adirondack Museum’s Rustic Furniture Fair, in Blue Mountain Lake, September 11–12.

“I encourage visitors to pick up the pieces and play with them,” Donna says. “They seem to be escaping into a simpler, more peaceful place. They smile—a lot.”

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