Some items sold at a recent craft fair at Sacred Heart parish in Lake George will keep the memory of the community's former mission church alive.
When the parish cleared out furnishings from the former Our Lady of the Assumption chapel in Cleverdale to sell the property, Stephen Maxim, 62, purchased some of the wood - mostly pieces of solid oak - and used them to craft two large benches, three baskets, a three-legged stool, a dozen crosses, six picture frames and a few mugs for office supplies.
He donated the proceeds from the sale back to Sacred Heart, which earmarked the money for its food pantry and renovations. Future sales of his pieces using the wood will also benefit the parish.
Mr. Maxim, a 62-year-old woodworking hobbyist, has attended Sacred Heart with his wife since they settled into retirement in Lake George about seven years ago. He said he finally has enough time to pursue a talent he believes God gave him.
Arts and numbers
The Fleischmanns native had attended Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica for advertising, design and production with aspirations of becoming an artist, but the 1970s' poor economy forced him to forge another path. He worked his way up in the state Department of Taxation and Finance to retire as an account manager.
But the desire to create art never left him.
"My outlet has always been art in some form," Mr. Maxim said. "Back then, it was drawing and painting."
As his eyesight declined and he fell out of practice at those, he began fixing things around the house and woodworking. His three-bedroom colonial house now displays almost 30 furniture pieces that he's built or found and restored, plus shelves, cabinets, ornaments and more.
Mr. Maxim likes to recreate pieces he sees in catalogs and often gets inspired to do something quirky, like making tables or plant stands incorporating pitchforks. He said they're great for lawn parties, for moving plants and "aerating the lawn at the same time."
Mr. Maxim doesn't usually sell his items, but the Sacred Heart sale gave him a taste of people's interest. His wife also encouraged him to make and sell miniature cutting boards there.
"I don't want this to become a business," he noted. "I want it to be enjoyable. I'm actually thrilled if anyone buys anything of mine and appreciates it."
Guided by God
He enjoyed making the pieces from the chapel wood and said God intervened with the idea for the frames and mugs.
"I felt like I was being directed somehow," he said. "Years of practice help a little bit, but you don't get that skill without some input from a higher authority. How I did it was dependent on what the wood said it wanted done to it."
For the mugs, Mr. Maxim hollowed out the insides of old pew railings and used other parts of the pews to make handles. He thinks some of the wood came from a veneer panel with kneelers attached, likely a fixture in the front row of the chapel. The wood was old, dry and difficult to manipulate; some of it had noticeable shadows and grooves, which he left intact.
"I wanted that reminder there," he said. "If it comes from something old, I try to leave the original marks, so it has some history - not just something made in a factory from another country or mass-produced."
Although he paid for the wood and invested in supplies to make the items, it was a no-brainer to donate his profits to the parish.
"Since it came from there, it should go back to there," he said. Aging makes you realize "you're lucky you've got what you've got, and giving back becomes a priority."
Mr. Maxim's neighbors treat his cellar like a hardware store. He spends a few hundred dollars a month on wood and keeps multiple sets of tools like drills and saws, while replenishing his paint, felt pads, stains and brushes often. He said he feels spiritual in lumberyards.
"I ask my wife, 'Can you feel the wood? Can you feel the sense of it having been a living thing at one time?'"
Mr. Maxim has a daughter and two grandsons from his first marriage. Besides woodworking, he likes heading to Florida for winter, attending high school sports games, exercising, playing sports and reading. He intends to start volunteering more.
He thought retirement would leave him bored, but "I found that I have more than enough to do."