I was very fortunate to grow up in the small hamlet of Wading River on the north shore of eastern Long Island (as I found out in November, little more than a stone's throw from where Ruth Niles lived in Baiting Hollow), the oldest of 3 children to the two finest parents any children have ever known. They are, and always will be, my two personal idols. In June 1981 graduated from Shoreham-Wading River High School where wrestling coach Joe Ferriera greatly influenced me as a young man and helped keep me on the straight and narrow. When we needed to raise money for a digital Toledo scale for our wrestling team, I learned most everything I would later need to know about business selling small SWR Wildcat trash cans. I am forever in his debt for his positive influence.
So how did I get involved in woodturning and burl importing/retailing? Like many people, I spent a lot of years trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do when I grew up. As a (younger) kid, I was briefly introduced to woodturning in Mr. Rosen's 7th/8th grade shop class, where I made a non-functional, really crude wooden fishing reel that I have to this day. My father later purchased a lathe and did some terrific spindle turning (especially after a class he took with Russ Zimmerman when he was in Putney, VT).
By the winter of 2004/2005, having been hooked on the incredible color and diversity of burls from Down Under, I started AustralianBurls.com and have worked very hard since building relationships with suppliers to find the most interesting and exciting burls and hardwoods. In parallel, I worked hard to improve my craft, and for years participated in craft shows from New York to Florida with varying degrees of success. Contrary to some people may think, neither importing/retailing or woodturning are lucrative and not likely something I would do without the inherent efficiencies of a primarily internet-based business and the backing of a retirement income to pay the mortgage and bills in lean times. Parenthood, self-employment, hard work, success and failure, and the Great Recession of 2007/2008 have reinforced something I've always believed - in keeping with Frank Capra's great film of the same name - "You Can't Take it With You." I worked with some truly terrific people during my 20 years in the Navy, but to find something that I truly love, the success or failure of which is entirely dependent on me, that never seems like work no matter how hard I work or how many hours I put in, and be home everyday to help raise my now 12 and 7 year old boys, and earn a few dollars doing so, is truly priceless. I consider myself very blessed. Does life get any better? As the late David Nittmann told me, serendipitous indeed!
As for the woodworking/woodturning aspect of my business, my greatest inspiration, pleasure and challenge comes from working with cutoffs and seemingly non-ideal, oddly shaped or termite/ant damaged burls that few customers buy, to create a work for people to enjoy that showcases the simple natural beauty of burl, often with contrasting heartwood and sapwood, in an aesthetically pleasing form. I consider the economic challenges in the aftermath of the Great Recession to have been a blessing in that I was forced to re-think the products I offered and raw materials I used. Nine of the 11 hollow form below are from scrap/cutoffs and the Red Mallee Burl pedestal went unsold for years before I chose to use it to display my small/mini work.
So that, in a nutshell, is my story. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful wife Seiko, who was so anxious to meet me that, in truly serendipitous fashion, she ran through my then 3 week old brick mailbox with her car in August 2002. Domo arigato gozaimashita! We married in January 2003 - in front of the mailbox she paid to rebuild - the night before I deployed to the Persian Gulf. She has been and remains unbelievably supportive of my passion as a business owner and woodturner and blessed us with two healthy, happy, wonderful sons - Charlie and Bryan. I could not do what I do without her. Aishiteru!