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June 23, 2009

 

City man sculpts furnishings by hand

South Avenue resident nurtures woodworking hobby by crafting whatever comes to mind

Joshua RiceBob Ellis/staff photographer
Joshua Rice checks the level of a table he is planing. In the background is an unfinished headboard made with weaved grapevines.

By ANTHONY BORRELLI
Staff Reporter
aborrelli@cortlandstandard.net

Joshua Rice put together a wooden table for his mother and a dollhouse for his sister while he was in his early teens. Now, he has taken up the hobby again for his own family.
The Cortland man said he decided to start making his own wooden furniture because it would make nice gifts for his family, adding it is also a hobby he enjoys. He started on his series of home projects two years ago.
Working on Monday afternoon in the driveway of his South Avenue home, Rice, 25, planed a slab of box elder to make a bench seat for extra seating at the dinner table. He had completed the bench later that evening.
Outside Rice’s home sits a wishing well he constructed out of wood, complete with a bucket underneath the canopy and a bird perch on top. He said he spent over 20 hours building it by hand.
Also outside the home sits the headboard for what will eventually become a new bedframe, which he began constructing last week. He spent two days constructing it out of maple and oak branches, adding a grapevine weave between the posts for decorative effect.
But Rice does not think of himself as an artist.
“I just make things people could use and what they would like,” he said.
He got the idea to mimic the style of design as a kid after going on road trips to the Adirondacks with his brother, seeing that type of woodworking incorporated into parts of the houses there.
Rice said it took him about 16 years of practice before he was able to master the techniques. It took a lot of practice.
“It wasn’t here and there, it was a very consistent thing,” he said. “It was repeating, redoing until it came out right.”
Rice said he does little formal planning for his projects and never makes any sketches or drawings ahead of time. He forms a general plan in his mind for how he wants something to look and works from there.
“In the beginning sometimes it’s a flash idea and I’ll keep working until it’s complete,” he said.
Rice as a teenager took BOCES woodshop courses to learn how to use the tools properly and make accurate measurements.
He spent about four years working for local logging and tree-cutting companies, trimming limbs off trees.
Within the past 2 years, Rice has been active in his own business, Cortland Tree Pruning and Removal by Climbing, which also helps out as a source for the wood he uses for his projects.
He also collects various types of wood he might find along the roadside, or anything leftover from his tree-cutting jobs around town.
“But it’s only when I’m working on a project,” Rice said.
Inside his home is a refurbished wood china cabinet filled with framed family photos.
Rice said he found the cabinet discarded on the roadside about a year ago and he spent nine months restoring it with brand new cherry wood panels and glass he cut by hand as windows for the cabinet door.
Rice added he does not specialize in building any specific type of furniture, just whatever he has time to work on.
Rice’s wife, Jopina, said it is not unusual for her husband to spend entire days working on a project. She said he could start working around 8 a.m. and quit around 10 at night.
“I first think of things that are a necessity, but I also like to build things the kids will enjoy,” Rice said. “I’m an outdoors person ... so I try to do a mixture, something they (the family) can enjoy inside or outside.”
Rice and his wife have five children, ranging in age from 3 years old to 14 years old.
In his backyard sits a playhouse, which Rice described as a “work in progress.”
The main frame of the playhouse is 5 feet tall about 6 feet long. The inside is littered with toys and a pretend stove, as well as cloth curtains covering the windows.
Rice said his plan is to eventually move the playhouse to mount part of it onto a nearby tree stump to help raise the structure so he can install a small set of stairs.
Rice has thought about putting his work up for sale, but working on projects for his family has priority.
“I’d like to get a few pieces done before selling anything,” he said.
The theme of the work is to contrast indoors versus outdoors themes, Rice said.
“It’s for somebody that doesn’t have a lot of experience in the woods,” he said. “You can’t bring people to the country, but you can bring the country to them.”

 

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