A tree, in its grandeur, forms beautiful lines and silhouettes.
For artists, trees are the ideal backdrop for striking renditions of scenery.
For those who work with wood, maples, oaks, black walnut, ash and birch are perfect for composing beautiful furniture.
Wayne Township woodworker/sculptor Tony Valvano sees visions from trees that the casual observer might miss.
His eye for what’s left over when a tree is cut down yields remarkable items of beauty. Yes, there’s furniture. The house he and wife, Cheryl, share just outside Chewton is graced with cabinets, a dining room table, coffee tables, chairs and other designs.
Tony really excels, though, in creating non-functional pieces. Those are ones you see in the lobbies and conference rooms of corporations and as centerpieces of some homes. A sculptural design is free flowing and open, he emphasized.
Not only does Tony love working with wood, his artistic side can be traced to his youth and he is also an art handler for the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
After trees have been cut down, he uses the birls, roots and other remains to carve and turn his pieces, even if there is a lot of clean-up involved. The results are spectacular.
Behind the home is his studio. The decor includes paintings and photography from friends and former Cruisin’ subjects John Conway and Scott Tammaro.
Tony has also built most of his own hand tools, and he added that only a few power tools are needed.
“I love hand tools,” he told me.
“The first experiment with wood was in the early 1980’s when my mom bought Tony a jigsaw and he built his first cabinet with it,” Cheryl said.
About that time he was laid off from his job and then worked for a logger.
“They wasted the beautiful end cuts of wood,” he said, noting he knew he could find a use for them and from there on. He was self taught, making what he liked. It’s the imperfections and cracks in the wood that make it appealing to Tony.
“I do it my own way,” he said, as he occasionally sipped on a coffee. “I want to see space.”
In this case, non-conventional is a good thing.
After a piece is first shaped or turned down, which can take as much as eight hours, Tony then lets it dry for three to four months. From there, he can carve as many simple or intricate designs as he likes, such as the ones on a cherry birl vase.
As an example, another vase was in its beginning stages.
“I rough up the piece, get the basic form and for this, we need a thick wall, about 3-inches thick,” he said. “The thicker the wall, the more animated the leaves can be.”
Floral, leafy designs are a preference.
Turning produces the sculpted items — done from one piece of wood.
“The lathe will turn 8-feet diameter and take 1,500 pounds of wood.”
What appeared to be a big maple bowl is home on a table. Here, big is 33 inches in diameter. And on the wall is a sculpted 36-inch round platter.
“It can be whatever you want it to be,” Tony explained.
A foyer or hallway would be complemented with a 27-inch-high vase created from black walnut.
He also stressed that he never cuts down a tree to make anything.
Black walnut is a favorite to work with because he finds the colors satisfying, but he mainly sculpts from maple. That particular tree, when left alone, produces something called spaulting, which is water damage and forms a black segment.
Tony sees that as a good thing because it’s a natural effect.
All of the finishes are hand rubbed.
There are more non-functional and functional objects inside the house including a medicine cabinet, pie safe, the entertainment center, bookcase, wall decorations, vases and even a gargoyle.
Everything is one of a kind.
Some of Tony’s works are in a gallery in Pittsburgh and he shows them at the Ellwood City Arts and Crafts Festival.
Each piece is signed and dated. And each one is a piece of art.
This lover of wood said he is pleased to see something from nature come alive again.
“It’s an integral part of me.”
Sometimes a few flaws lead to downright perfection.
(To submit a Cruisin’ the County idea, contact Lugene Hudson at (724) 654-6651, extension 620 or email@example.com.)