Canandaigua parishioner repurposes wood from discarded pews - Catholic Courier

Canandaigua parishioner repurposes wood from discarded pews

They were just pieces of scrap wood, chunks of church pews that had been shortened and removed during the renovation of St. Mary Church in Canandaigua. They were destined for the dumpster, but in Bob Rice’s hands, they became works of art.

Rice turned the scrap wood into dozens of unique pieces. His creations — bookcases and tables, clocks and crosses — came from humble beginnings, yet they have the potential to make a difference in the lives of many. Proceeds from their sale during silent auctions in May will benefit the St. Mary School Scholarship Fund as well as Eight 4 World Hope, a Canandaigua-based charity that works with Food For the Poor to improve the lives of people in Jamaica, Haiti and other developing countries.

“We’re trying to do (the Lord’s) work to help out,” Rice said, noting that he’s not sure how much money his creations will raise. “It’s in the Lord’s hands.”

The Knights of Columbus are sponsoring the silent auction, which will take place at St. Mary Church, 95 N. Main St. in Canandaigua, following the 5:30 p.m. Masses on May 11 and 18, and the 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and noon Masses on May 12 and 19. The church is one of the two worship sites of St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and Bloomfield, and the auction will be staffed by members of the parish’s young-adult ministry and social ministry.

Discarded pieces of pews were old but still in good condition

The first spark of inspiration for Rice’s project came in the spring of 2019. St. Mary Church was in the midst of a major restoration that entailed removing the pews that had stood in the church since its construction in 1905, and parishioners were encouraged to take the old pews home in exchange for donations to the parish. When they got to church to pick up their pew, Bob Rice and his wife, Sheila, talked to the carpenter who was on site shortening the pews at parishioners’ request.

“He’d take the end off a 13-foot pew and end up with a four- or five-footer. He had a pile of scraps,” Bob Rice recalled.

After learning the leftover pew pieces were headed for a dumpster, the Rices brought all the pieces home and later got another truckload of scraps from the carpenter. Woodworking has been a hobby of Rice’s for more than 65 years, and he knew he could create something out of the pew scraps. Despite the age of the wood, it was still in good condition, he said.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to build something out of this lumber.’ It’s too nice not to,” he said. “It’s white oak, and white oak today is $18 for a board foot. If you go to Home Depot, red oak, which is more common, will cost you $12 for a board foot. It’s very hard to get white oak.”

After much preparation, the pew scraps were turned into new furniture pieces

Preparing the wood for its newfound purpose was time-consuming, Rice said.

“I think probably 60 to 70 percent of the work (of creating a piece) is preparing the wood,” he said. “I think it’s probably three times the work to use that wood than if I went to Lowe’s and brought it home and cut it up.”

He persevered, however, inspired by Pope Francis and his frequent pleas for people to care for the environment, he said.

A longtime antiques enthusiast, he worked with Sheila to decide what to make out of the wood. They visited libraries in Canandaigua and Geneva to find patterns for mission-style furniture, designed a few book cases and stands himself, and copied the design for a stool built by a family member. Over the course of five years, Rice created more than two dozen pieces of furniture.

Even the smallest scraps of wood were repurposed

Once he’d used up most of the big pieces of wood, Rice started making other items out of the smaller pieces. A handful were turned into backdrops for creches of varying sizes, and five were made into clocks, while others were fashioned into crosses or used to make religious plaques. The tiniest pieces were made into back scratchers.

Rice painstakingly cut more than 100 tiny crosses from the missal-holders that had been mounted on the pews, and his wife placed the crosses inside small squares of fabric she’d sewn into quilts.

“They’re little prayer quilts. It’s meditative, like a worry stone. You hold it in your hand and feel the cross inside of it. It can have a calming effect, knowing the cross is always with us,” Sheila Rice said.

With the hard work behind them, the Rices now have time to think about what they’ve accomplished. They’re glad they were able to keep wood out of the landfill and hope their creations will help their selected charities.

“We had a lot of fun. It just pulled together quite nicely,” Bob Rice said.

Tags: Art, Churches, Ontario County News
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