MARSTON — Gnarled tree limbs, found in leisurely walks through the woods, become the raw material for Mark Cherry's Rustic Furniture, the one-man manufacturing company he runs from a small shop in his backyard.
"Iused to pick up twigs and use them for walking sticks," he said. "Now, I look for any extraordinary shape I can make into furniture and bring back whatever catches my eye."
With a combination of skill and imagination, Cherry turn those twigs into chairs, plant stands and children's furniture.
"One customer said the $35 plant stand was strong enough to be a great bar stool and bought them for his restaurant," he said with a laugh.
The intricately patterned furniture of twigs and bark traces its origins back to the 19th century, when craftsmen incorporated the natural deformities of wood into their pieces, he said. Cherry and his wife, Carolyn, first noticed the style while vacationing in the Adirondack Mountains.
"Resort caretakers made a lot of it to keep themselves occupied during the winter," he said. "It was inexpensive, throwaway stuff they would make every year. Unfortunately, not much survives."
The hardwood sticks, of dogwood, maple, oak, cherry or hickory, are stacked up outside the shop, until Cherry "gets around to making something out of them." He said he has a personal filing system and remembers each branch.
"Nelson, put that stick back, please," he asks his3-year-old son. "Daddy has them arranged in a special way."
He sometimes waits until he finds different pieces with the same crook.
"Once I get an idea of what I can do with a particular stick, I remember it no matter when I get to it," he said.
Execution of the idea is a "building block" process using only hand tools, he said.
"My wife made me swear off power tools after three hand injuries," he said.
He knows the basics of furniture construction and also makes cabinets.
"I can let my imagination run wild until the project is completed," he said.
His latest projects include a rustic recliner-- with wrought iron adjustments on the arms -- and a "melting chair," which he started when he found two "intriguing" pieces to form a back.
"I look at the sticks and think, 'How do I make a chair out of this?' " he said.
Once completed, the furniture remains "a little flexible" for about a year, then hardens. He does not treat or stain the wood. In addition to his more unusual pieces, he also offers a standard line of furniture.
"The furniture is extremely durable, and can even get wet," he said. "It takes care of itself. One piece fell off a pick-up truck. I just reglued the tenons and it was on its way again."
Cherry "hauls his pieces around to different craft shows," hoping to sell or trade them. A few of his creations are in the Decorators Showcase House in Baltimore County, a fund-raising event for the Baltimore Symphony.
He will be exhibiting Saturday and Sunday at Union Mills Homestead.