The Time-honored Traditions of Woodworking Embolden the Next Generation

06 Apr 2020

New technologies and a photographer’s eye breathe life into fallen hardwoods

By Crissy Neville   »   Photos by Mollie Tobias

Counted among the greatest inventors and CEOs of his generation, American technological revolutionary Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is connecting things. Creative people connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Pinehurst artist Mollie Tobias gives credence to this statement, incorporating a formal background in architecture and interior design with current pursuits in woodworking and photography — the merger of creative mediums a natural byproduct for the versatile Sandhills artist.

Tobias creates custom-made wooden furniture pieces and home accessories from a shared workspace in Aberdeen, more and more of which are commissions. The impulse to craft began in her backyard to better store tools in her garage is the physical explanation of how Tobias got started, but the real report harkens back to a downed tree and a decision to lift it. A neighbor’s fallen hardwood both caught her eye and sparked her curiosity, and her journey to woodworking began.

“It was such a cool looking tree — a tulip poplar — and I would gaze across the street and see it becoming a table in a room. I thought about it so much that I finally asked my neighbors if I could cut it up, and I then called my artist friend Tim Knepp to ask what he knew about woodworking. It turns out he knew a lot, and he helped me cut and mill the tree. It did not become a table, but instead a waterfall countertop for my laundry room, named for the way the grain flows down the piece. I have learned a lot since then.”

A self-described woodworking hobbyist, Tobias does not create a high volume of products; the items she crafts are completely custom from start to finish, taking many months to complete. She began with small pieces — side and coffee tables, plant stands, cutting boards and coasters, wooden cheese knives — and gradually moved up to tables, bookshelves, desks, chairs and dressers. A new mother, she made a special set of shadow boxes for her infant son’s room to display family military memorabilia of three generations. Primarily self-taught, Tobias gleaned skills from friends like Knepp in addition to combing through ideas and methods seen on Instagram and YouTube, all sourcing her strengths as an artist, as well.

“I did take woodshop in high school but was afraid of power tools back then, “ she admits with a laugh.

She’s come a long way, baby. Today the small-framed, CrossFit-chiseled bodied artist can be seen wielding everything from jigsaws and planers to bandsaws and drills. Stacks of salvaged wood stand as a testament to her passion, air drying and awaiting second life, while sourced kiln-dried materials make for even more options. Her eclectic resume now extended to include personal home renovations and chain saw carving art, her nontraditional roles sometimes raising eyebrows but more often expressions of encouragement.

Tobias’ magnum opus, however, is the crafting of her signature river tables, hybrid furniture pieces derived from casting resin on wood to create tabletops from a pour several inches thick and integrating pigments for color, style and pattern. The resin flows into the wood crevices, according to Tobias, filling the negative space and creating a flowing river-like look. Tobias’s experimentation with this specialty niche in the woodworking market helps define her artistry.

The camera lens provides further focus. A 2004 Savannah College of Design graduate, Tobias worked full time in architectural drafting and interior design in Raleigh and Southern Pines for five years before striking out on her own to launch Mollie Tobias Photography. Self-taught, her interest in photography piqued by her parents’ dabbling in the visual art form, was further heartened by her experience at SCAD, where everyone Tobias explains, “was so creative and in multiple artistic endeavors.” She finally acted on becoming a professional photographer with her husband’s encouragement. It was also 2008 and the building recession was looming so Tobias transitioned from being a design professional to a small-business owner marketing her new trade.

“Taking pictures is the easy part,” she said, “I was a photography hobbyist with a knack but jumped into a new career. The hard part is running a business and taking care of accounting — that was the challenging and intimidating part.”

As an editorial photographer Tobias’ favorite parts of her job are photographing the details of the wedding day and helping couples capture remembrances for moments that have no do-overs.

She also has another reason for her resolve to capture the best memories of the couples for which she works — regret — her regret in not recording her wedding as she would have liked.

Explaining, she said, “I was married in the summer of 2004. At the time, my husband, Paul, and I were young and about to be relocated by the Army. I did the (now) unthinkable and did not hire a photographer for our small wedding. Back then, it didn’t seem like a big deal — we
always planned on having a “real” wedding later. Now 15 years later that still has not happened, and I do not have a single photo from our wedding day that I can print larger than 4x6. I tell people to do it — preserve the memories that will not happen again.”

From architect and designer to photographer and woodworker, Tobias’ vocations may seem disconnected, but she disagrees.

“The things I do may seem very different, but that is on the surface,” she said. “From past to present, my art has a lot in common in that I am using practical tools to a creative end. In architecture, it was computers and drafting tools employed to create the building, and in photography, it is the camera equipment used to capture the picture. I feel like woodworking is the same. I am using very technical tools and a blue-collar type of work to create art out of very humble beginnings. There are very time-honored traditions here, and mixing the new technologies with the heritage of woodworking creates something amazing.” For information,

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