Craftsman Shawn O’Malley has sawdust in his blood. His grandfather Frank Ross, or “Pop” as he was known, had also made furniture. In those days, you didn’t buy a table — you made it.
Ross had once made a bench from pine resurrected from a barn in a valley nearby where Ross lived in Kentucky. The barn was standing during the Civil War and, within a 48-hour period, both Union and Confederate soldiers spent the night in the barn. The bench currently resides in O’Malley’s kitchen; his family sits on it nightly for dinner.
Ross not only passed furniture and woodworking adages, such as “measure twice, cut once,” down to O’Malley, but he passed down the love of woodworking.
When O’Malley had children — Liam is now 10 and Jack is 13 — he and Ross used to work in Ross’ woodshop, a building adjacent to Ross’ Sarasota home, making wooden toys for O’Malley’s children. They were ones Ross would have played with as a child.
After Ross died nine years ago, O’Malley retreated to the woodshop and began building farm tables out of salvaged wood — a way to connect to his heritage.
O’Malley was the manager of Home Depot at the time. People would come in and say, “I want to build a table.” O’Malley would ask how they planned to attach the legs, and then cringe at their haphazard plans. O’Malley wanted to take them under his wing and show them the proper way — the way Ross would have done it.
O’Malley always envisioned a place he could do this — something with more space where he could create a cooperative environment and turn commoners into craftsmen. This desire for a co-op grew when O’Malley became store manager for Sarasota Architectural Salvage in 2006.
In spring 2012, a 5,000-square-foot warehouse became available on Central Avenue a few doors down from Sarasota Architectural Salvage. The space was perfect — it is a short distance to transport wood or other salvaged supplies, such as beams from the old John Ringling Hotel, from SAS to the woodworking space. O’Malley gets first dibs on what comes into the store.
The new space is also large enough that his fellow artist-type co-workers from Sarasota Architectural Salvage can explore their own creativity. It’s the type of place that draws in outsiders from all walks of life — his shop has grown to house about 12 fellow craftsmen.
“There’s no shop class offered in high school anymore,” O’Malley says, “but people crave it and don’t have the means to do it.”
O’Malley invites those with “sawdust in their blood,” as he says, to work in his shop. He lends his tools and space for free and helps teach them the art. Nothing excites O’Malley more than artistic people who have a project in mind but don’t know how to build it.
Though he doesn’t ask for anything in return, he has found that they are glad to give something back to him. One craftsman specializes in home brewing and stocks a row of refrigerators at the front of the shop with the beer he makes. Another is a tattoo artist who offers his services to the craftsmen. Another is a fisherman who often hosts cookouts at the workshop. O’Malley says it’s exactly the type of camaraderie he wanted when he envisioned what this place could be.
“You get what you put in,” O’Malley says. “That’s what this woodshop has taught me tenfold.”
And, in keeping with their great-grandfather’s legacy, O’Malley’s two sons have also tapped into the art form. Jack helps deliver the custom tables once they’re finished, and Liam has started his own company painting hand-carved fish his father makes from salvaged wood.
“It’s such a shame Pop didn’t get to see what I’m doing in the workshop,” O’Malley says.
Five Things That Inspire Shawn O'Malley:
My wife — She is my rock. She is my support. She is my inspiration and the reason I do everything.
My kids — For the exact same reasons as my wife.
The story behind something — Whatever that story might be. I love it when something has got more of a story than just what it is. It has a past and history … it has a little more to it.
Cooperativeness — It’s (the type) I see with other woodworkers and on pieces.
Doing something new — Really trying to pick something out that I haven’t done before, learning a new skill, learning to grow and build it better than the last time.
What’s in a name: Heart’s Art
Mandy Jane and Shawn O’Malley met in the fourth grade at Pine View Elementary, where they were both students. They were placed in the same group on a trip to Epcot, and they were friends until they started dating in their junior year of high school.
In high school, O’Malley used to sign notes he wrote his sweetheart with a heart with wings. So, years later, when they were brainstorming what to call his early painting and craftsmanship, his wife said, “Heart’s Art” — not only as homage to his signature, but because everything he made came from his heart. He says the theme has translated itself a few times and tends to be recurring. Most recently, he has been working with heart pine.
For more information about Heart’s Art pieces, visit www.heartsart.us or call 941-504-6093 for more information.
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