Metal artist Desirea Carr of Saugerties says she was always drawn to the underbelly of art, finding or creating works with busted or discarded everyday items like broken shovels, defunct Christmas tree lights and even animal skulls. Using a small metal torch, her uncle’s trusty plasma cutter, beads, paint or glue, Carr elevates these items, once destined for the landfill or the recycling center, into an altogether different existence. She calls her business Woodnote of the Catskills.
Carr said had arrived full on into her “’90’s gothy grunge phase” by the end of her middle-school years. “I loved to draw, write dark poetry — which may have gotten me sent to the guidance office a time or two — and even got into photography,” she said. “At school, time was spent taking photos of the Drama Club or basketball games but on my time, I spent time with my friends dressing up and doing photo shoots in the graveyard. Fast forward a few months and I’m thrust — all New York gothic angsty teenager — into southern California culture. It would be an understatement to say I didn’t fit in.”
But she found a niche in the drama club behind the scenes, working backstage doing makeup, costumes and set design. That was where Carr, she said, finally felt her creativity and powers of transformation lock into a good fit.
Living on the outskirts of a conventional lifestyle, she and her family grow their own food and raise some small animals for meat and eggs. She said the family protocol is to reuse, upcycle, repurpose and “just try not to waste.”
“By using every bit of everything we can we are honoring it and ourselves,” she said. “Last year when we raised meat rabbits we didn’t just eat the meat,” said Carr.
While that sounds like a solid hippie kind of life, her inner goth hasn’t gone away. “I cleaned and decorated the skulls with paint, beads, glitter, gems, whatever looks pretty.” Carr uses the bones and teeth to fashion earrings and necklaces, and has gone so far as to learn how to tan pelts to make slippers or blankets.
“Although we try not to use canned food we are still a modern family and I couldn’t stand just throwing [the cans] away,” said Carr. “So after a family trip to California last year and seeing a torch-cut lantern, I got the idea to start using them to make lanterns.” Greg came home one day with vintage hand saws and Carr said she quickly ran to her uncle’s to borrow his plasma cutter to cut designs into them.
After working as a substitute teacher and feeling pushed back by physical and mental health issues, Carr’s husband Greg encouraged her to take her artwork to the next level — not only to create, but to create what she loved, “not necessarily what I think the mass population will love.”
Carr said Greg notices she “gets a little cranky” when not elbows deep in her garage, creating. “So I really started getting focused. Finding fun, quirky things I could do. I wanted to make art, not just crafts. I wanted to work with different materials than other crafters. So I started looking at the things around me differently. Things in the metal scrap pile, concrete, rocks, dirt, hunks of wood. I wanted to take the things that other people saw as garbage and make it beautiful again. Give it purpose and meaning … just like me.”
Woodnote of the Catskills set up for the first time this year at the Catskill Farmer’s Market at Dutchman’s Landing, at the Blackthorne Resort for the Rats Nest Run-In and Catskill Mountain Thunder. “I was amazed by the feedback,” said Carr. She showcased her custom-made torch-cut saws and shovels. She sells items such as a “Don’t be a Prick” cactus garden, glass garden sculptures, teacup bird feeders, vinyl record dishes, concrete rag planters and vases, and yes, even the painted and beaded skulls and bone jewelry. Generally speaking, one of her works can add a badass touch to an otherwise vanilla home.
For the holidays Carr created “Fork Off” and “Peace” signs, plant stakes made out of old silverware, more torch-cut saws, rough-cut “wood line” and cinnamon candle holders and “Christmas bug” ornaments — wire-wrapped vintage Christmas lights to look like bugs or spiders.
“I’m feeling more and more free to express the not so ‘normal’ ideas in my head and my journal pages, and I’m excited to bring those to life this year,” Carr said. “I’m still learning and have some big dreams as to what Woodnote could become.”
Carr and her husband bought a vintage camper which they are currently renovating into a tiny store to travel with her wares, gypsy-style, to more shows. She is zeroing in on parking her camper weekly at the Mower’s Market in Woodstock. “It’s hard to say exactly what I’ll have coming up because each piece of reclaimed wood or scrap metal that comes in gives new inspiration and will find its place,” said Carr. “It’s all really just a reflection of me: hard and soft. Rough and beautiful; once discarded but changed with a little bit of help to find its place in the world. … My family and I always try to live balanced and my art can’t be any different as it is, truly, a part of me. There shall be nothing ‘normal’ about any of it.”
Carr’s work can be found on Instagram at @triplemoonmama and @woodnoteofthecatskills. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.