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Couple that creates together, stays together

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Pair share passion, hobby for woodworking

Story by Augie Salzer -- For the Riverland News

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Love is the glue that has kept one local couple and their shared hobby of woodworking together and happy.
Michael and Gretchen Caprio proudly display in their home some of the wooden items they have created together throughout the years. Many different kinds of wood has been used to make a variety of bowls, bells, plates, clocks, furniture, bird houses and even a child’s rocking horse.
“Gretchen made me buy a turning wood lathe to get me started,” he said with a smile. “I’m self-taught and I just learned to do this by hit and miss.”
One of the first pieces Michael made, about 40 years ago, was a Chippendale tea table with only a hand saw, screw driver, hammer and a hack saw.
“Not having all the proper tools, so it’s not perfect,” he said about his creation. “I made it in the basement of our apartment and it was the introduction to all of this.”
Now his garage has a large work area with a wood lathe, scroll saw, table saw, drill press, numerous chisels and all the equipment he needs to enjoy his hobby.
“Buying him gifts was easy,”Gretchen said. “All I had to do is get him a new tool or piece of equipment.”
He quickly became obsessed with his new past-time and learned “wood turning” to make bowls and goblets on a lathe and “scroll sawing” to make delicate lattice designs in the wood. He also learned another form of wood crafting called “intarsia” which takes several pieces of different wood, cuts them into different shapes and glues them together like a puzzle to make a mosaic-like picture.
“It (turning wood) became an obsession with me,” Michael said. “All I wanted to do was find more wood and make something beautiful.”
While Michael did all the shaping of the different wooden creations, Gretchen was responsible for the sanding, then putting on four coats of lacquer and the gluing of the intarsia projects.
Throughout the years, they have used 57 different kinds of woods in their craft. The camphor wood is their favorite because it is soft, multigrained and does not easily crack.
Their hobby has supplied all their relatives with handmade gifts for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries for many years. Not wanting to overload the relatives with too many wooden items, the couple decided to sell their creations at area craft shows and turned it into another job for them.
“It’s a hobby that turned into a full-time job,” Gretchen remembered. “We started with just one or two shows a year and eventually we were doing 50 shows a year. We made enough money to pay for expenses.”
Michael continued to enjoy his hobby and made an almost 3-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower for his wife after they went to Paris.
“Gretchen was the motivator behind all the things I’ve attempted to make,” he said. “If she saw something she wanted she would tell me, ‘of course, you can do it.’”
After 30-plus years of working and doing the craft shows they decided to retire and move to Florida. Michael retired in 1992 from his job as executive director of the Head Start program in Massachusetts and Gretchen left the teaching profession after 37 years of teaching with the last seven as the principal.
“After we moved to Florida, we only did three or four craft shows,” 85-year-old Michael said. “The shows were getting to be too much work for us.”
They did attend one of the first Boomtown Days to set up a booth with their wares and took the first prize for their works of art, but they didn’t always do well.
The first year they tried to sell their wooden articles a storm came through sending everyone home early and the second year it was a hurricane.
“We stopped going to the Boomtown Days to set up shop,” Gretchen said with a smile. “We didn’t know if we were bringing in the bad weather or not.”
Although they stopped going to craft shows, the couple still continue their love of creating wooden objects. They have decided to donate all the extra items to their niece, Kate Wollan, principal of the Nativity of the Lord school in St. Paul, Minn., for their county fair with the proceeds to help the school.
“Every year, we have sent Kate a bowl that we made and she auctions it off at the fair,” Michael said. “This year, we’re taking a car load to her.”
The couple has also donated items to many charitable causes. At the request of Father Joe Pinchock, the pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, eight years ago the couple made a very light weight, lattice processional cross which is still used today.
“Father Joe encouraged me to make the cross and it took several months to make,” Michael said. “Every week we look to see which cross they are using and we are always proud to see it coming down the aisle.”
The time they spend on their hobby has been reduced due to their age, but their love of creating wood objects has not diminished.
“I still love seeing what I can create from a piece of wood,” Michael said.
Augie Salzer is a correspondent for the Riverland News. Email her at augie@thingsintown.com.