Dan Mitchell is a staving artist. No, that is not a misspelling. A stave is a narrow strip of wood that helps form the side of a barrel. Dan uses lots of staves in the rustic wine barrel furniture he creates.
Luckily for him, there are roughly 30 staves in a wine barrel. “I also use the barrel heads for tabletops, and I make signs and shapes out of the hoop – the metal pieces that keep the barrel together,” says Dan, owner of Staving Artist Woodwork, and sales manager of Fox Run Vineyards in Penn Yan.
Dan’s woodworking skills stem from his family. “My father always prompted me to use tools as a kid,” he says. “I was always helping him with some kind of project. I also have a cousin who is a skilled woodworker. He showed me how to use a couple of the basic tools, but, for the most part, all of my woodworking is self-taught.”
As a member of the wine industry, Dan started “dabbling with barrels” in 2005 because he had easy access to them. “I love barrel heads. I’ve always thought they told a great story. So I bought some retired barrels from Fox Run, took them home with me and played with them.”
Each piece plays a part
Dan makes all kinds of furniture, from tables to wine racks to candle holders. More importantly, he utilizes every part of the barrel in his woodworking. The staves are used as table legs, tied together to form plant holders and utilized as a design element. “I also bend the metal hoops,” he explains, “to make personalized name sculptures. They can be used to make garden ornaments, too, and I also bend them into the shapes of the Finger Lakes.”
In fact, Dan created a full set of all 11 Finger Lakes that hangs on the wall in the tasting room at Silver Thread Vineyard on the east side of Seneca Lake. “I superimposed a map of the Finger Lakes up on the wall, and hung them in almost their exact locations. I also made them proportionate to each other.”
Every barrel has a story
“What a lot of people like about my work is the individual nature of each piece,” notes Dan. “I keep a lot of influence from the winery and the barrel. There are companies out there that mass produce these pieces, and they strip them down and make them look exactly the same.”
Dan likes his furniture to have a “more minimalist intervention in the wood.” He even delivered a piece to a customer that still had the stone from the crush pad meshed into the wood. “Those are the things that tell the story of the barrel,” he says.
Dan makes sure to tell each one of his customers where the barrel he used came from. “It’s a great selling point,” he explains, “and it becomes more personal for the customer, especially for fans of a certain wine made by a specific winery.” Many of his barrels come from Fox Run, understandably, but he also uses barrels from Thirsty Owl (Cayuga Lake), Rooster Hill (Keuka Lake) and Ravines (Seneca and Keuka lakes), to name a few.
“From tables to wine racks to cutting boards,” notes Dan, “the artwork of Staving Artist Woodwork is as individual as the Finger Lakes wines themselves.”
To see more of Dan’s creations, visit stavingartist.com, facebook.com/stavingartistwoodworks, or e-mail him at dan@staving artist.com.
by Alyssa LaFaro