Nicholas Di Mona’s exhibition is on display at the SOBA Gallery in Bluffton SC
“My grandfather made wine and he got grapes in wooden crates,” artist Nick Di Mona said.
“These crates were my practice and my inspiration. I started carving on end pieces when I was 10, and I knew, I just knew I would be a carpenter.
At 72, Nick Di Mona has been carving, cutting and turning cave dwellers, herons, bowls, vases and works of art from wooden blocks for over 60 years. On Saturdays, the SOBA Gallery in Bluffton hosts over 200 sculptures and shoots by Di Mona. The exhibition runs until the end of August.
Di Mona grew up in Camden, New Jersey, helping her grandfather in the family business. In college, he carved on grape crates long enough to know he had a knack for using his hands and an eye to create lifelike sculptures.
“My guidance teacher told me that woodworking and trades were disappearing,” Di Mona recalls. “That there would only be a few carpenters needed to make original prototypes, then everything would be mass produced.”
He took into account the insight of the guidance counselor and became a technical illustrator for RCA. There he worked his way through the best projects for the military and discovered that he was really, really good at turning his designs into 3D products. Eventually, Di Mona went to school to be a commercial artist while simultaneously working at RCA.
In 1996 he retired and went to work full time as a carpenter. This gesture quickly bore fruit. In 1998, he became president of the carving club in Homosassa, Florida. In 2007, Di Mona was elected president of the Woodturners Club in Inverness, Florida. For 25 years, Di Mona has enjoyed a successful second career as the carpenter he always wanted to be.
Di Mona’s work is well designed and executed. In particular, he has an eye for birds, with each species designed to scale, the feathers burnt and painted in accordance with the physiology of the animal.
“I spent a lot of time birding,” said Di Mona. “I bought photo books and learned about their anatomy. I know their feathers, primary, secondary, tertiary, and much more, to sculpt them.
Di Mona’s sculpture of a pair of familiar cave dwellers, “Courtship”, is representative of his work.
Created to scale, the pair displays the know-how in each of its pieces. Typically, he starts with a linden block and uses a pencil directly on the block to rough out a figure. With sculpting tools, he valves until a distinct figure emerges. Di Mona then uses a series of engraving tools to create fine lines and outlines before painting the sculpture.
“I don’t play golf, don’t hang out in bars, that’s my love,” said Di Mona. “They may be small, but each bird has between 30 and 40 hours of work.”
In his garage workshop, Di Mona also transforms creatively shaped bowls, vases and containers from wood he and his friends salvaged from hurricanes in Georgia and Florida. The process works as follows: on his turn, Di Mona fixes a block of wood. The lathe then turns quickly and it uses different types of gouges and turning tools to create shapes and spaces.
One of the standout items is a rocket-shaped container made up of six individually turned parts that are seamlessly assembled. The top, when removed, reveals the empty space inside. Containers like these are hits with grandchildren and adults who love a little whimsy in their lives.
“I built desks with wheels, shelves, rocking chairs, cradles,” Di Mona said to himself. “People go to college and graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and can’t find jobs, but working in trades, word work, cabinetmaking, plumbing, you can make a good living. The skilled trades really teach problem solving that you can use in everyday situations. I love being able to use these skills to create art and craft practical pieces.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
WHAT: The Wonderful World of Wood by Nicholas Di Mona
WHEN: The artists’ reception is on Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
O: SOBA Gallery, 6 Church Street, Bluffton, South Carolina