Sunday, August 20, 2017

Working with Wood: An interview with Mark Rila

Working with Wood: 
An interview with Mark Rila
with Gina McKnight

Master craftsman Mark Rila, and his wife, fine artist Kelly Lincoln, live in Marietta, Ohio, just beyond the Ohio River. Their farmhouse is towering, with ten to eleven-foot ceilings, hand-carved amenities, crystal chandeliers, and all the charm of Americana. The farmhouse is part of 11-acres, better known as Fernwood Farm; a magical menagerie of life, including chickens, sheep, horses, a dog, cats, and, most of all, pigs... Lucky, Boris, Natashia, and other ovines who let you pat their tummy, scratch behind their ears, or just let you watch as they waller and snort. 

Several weeks ago I had the great pleasure of taking a tour, petting pigs, and talking with Mark about his history as a talented woodworker. As we tour the farmhouse, Mark shows me some of the one-of-a-kind handmade furniture he has created over the years. His woodworking skills can be seen from floor to ceiling, including fancy banisters, doors, furniture, and trim to match the home's original historic woodwork details.

A Fernwood Farm Bedroom
GM: Thank you, Mark, for showing me around your beautiful farm! Tell me about the house and history…
MR: Kelly and I have lived in this house for five years. The architecture of the house, which is Federal, dates to 1811, the former of Colonel Joseph Barker. The house was built for Colonel Barker and his family - wife Elizabeth, and their ten children - during America’s Colonial era. Marietta is a very old city, and some of the homes are historically significant. The Federal style of home is very simple. There are linear elements as well as recognizable structural aesthetics. The scroll work on our porch was added later, during the Victorian era. Over the years, the house has been updated. The back of the house was finished in the 1840’s and is different than the front part of the house. When Kelly moved into the house, about twelve years ago, she un-renovated the house to restore it to its original Federal era charm.

GM: A seasoned carpenter, when did you begin working with wood?
MR: When I was seven years old, my dad gave me a pocketknife. He taught me how to whittle. He taught me how to make puzzles out of wood – I could whittle a cage with a ball and chain; the ball was inside the cage. As I grew, I could whittle anything that came to mind. When I was a teenager, I wanted a Model T to drive, so I rebuilt a Model T, which had a wooden frame. I still have the Model T.

I always wanted to create with wood. To get to that end, I became a carpenter. I learned on the job, taking houses apart and putting them back together. A guy that I knew recognized my talent as a carpenter and hired me. I was skillful enough at twenty-years-old that I became a full-time carpenter. Most beginning carpenters start working in an apprentice/gopher capacity. I began as a full-time carpenter building houses.

GM: Building houses has been steady work for you throughout your carpentry career. How did you intertwine your creative woodworking ability with your carpentry skills?
MR: I began woodworking on the side. My boss knew I had a skill for fine woodworking, so he selected me to do trim – the molding around doors and windows, installing doors and windows. That became my specialty from that point on. I made the doors and the trim, then evolved into creating furniture. Once I became self-employed and my customers saw my custom furniture, I was contracted to build specialty items. Chairs are my favorite to build. I like the challenge. I create custom cabinets, but that’s easy to do, they are just a box. Creating a custom chair requires a lot of skill.

GM: Your handiwork with wood is beautiful. Building furniture must be a challenge; manipulating the wood to become your own design, or the customer’s vision. How long does it take to create a custom piece and how do you choose which wood to work with?
Jewelry Box designed by Ralph Duesing
MR: Time and the choice of wood depend upon the details. Larger furniture pieces may not take as long as a smaller, intricate piece, such as a jewelry box I created for one of my long-standing customers, Ralph Duesing. Ralph is an architect and designs his own amazing houses. He was impressed with my woodworking skill and we collaborated on projects. Ralph sent me blueprints to build a jewelry box for his wife. It’s easy for someone to send you blueprints - I had to use my skill to figure out how to piece the jewelry box together. Some of the inlays were intricate and complicated to build. The drawers are hidden within the box with special mitered corners and complex designs. It took time to find just the right section of curly hard maple and curly soft maple I used for the box. There are differences in the coloration and waviness/grains of wood. There can be anomalies in different types of wood that can make a custom piece of furniture unique and one-of-a-kind. I always look for wood with different dynamics to create unique pieces. For example, the walnut I used for Ralph’s jewelry box, I bought two walnut slabs that were five-feet long and I cut them just to get certain pieces from the wood.

GM: What other projects stand out in your career?
MR: While working in Texas with Ralph, I created all the trim and some of the furniture for his custom home. I crafted specific furniture to fit the customer’s design. The home is a Southwest Spanish style ranch. All the elements were built by hand. Gates, doors, trims, ceiling beams, were all crafted by hand. Some elements of the house are solid cedar. The house had handmade custom shutters and three front doors. I made the dining room table from white oak. Pocket doors, bedroom furniture, floors, cabinets, all were custom. It was a lot of work.

Another house we removed all of the shiplap from the walls and ceiling. The homeowner wanted to recycle the wood; I made custom cabinets from the shiplap. They were beautiful. I’ve worked with walnut, oak, chestnut – you name it, I’ve worked with it!

Ralph, the architect, asked me to make him a wine box he had designed. He gave me the design and I went with it. When other people saw the wine boxes, they wanted one. Each wine box is an intricate design of small pieces of wood based upon Ralph's design. It takes two weeks of constant work to construct one wine box. It’s more of an art object influenced by historic architecture, patterned after Italian design. 

I’m not a designer. Besides Ralph’s architectural designs, my wife, Kelly, helps me with design, too. I have made custom design settees, tables, chairs, dressers, bedroom suites, cabinets, house shutters, doors, garden trellis’ and much more, all from a client’s design, using many different types of wood. If you can dream it, I can make it.

For additional information, connect with Mark…
Mark Rila Woodworking
Custom Furniture and Woodworking
Fernwood Farm
1903 Masonic Park
Marietta, Ohio 45750

740 629 1520

@Fernwood Farm's Country Kitch: Handmade by Mark Rila

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Stripped of Their Childhood Innocence: How Two Recovering Addicts Moved On from a Dark Past

Photo credit: Pixabay

Stripped of Their Childhood Innocence: How Two Recovering Addicts Moved On from a Dark Past

Children are small and innocent. Their biggest life choices are whether they want chocolate or strawberry ice cream, cheese or pepperoni pizza. Unfortunately, some children aren’t that lucky. They deal with childhood traumas that set the course for their adult lives. We spoke with two recovering addicts about how their sexual molestation led them to seek solace in the arms of drugs, and how they broke free from that embrace and found help.

Harold’s Story

Some of us were fortunate enough to grow up with loving and supportive parents. Harold’s were the opposite, and the one person he thought he could turn to for help violated him in the most unimaginable way.

“I grew up in a home with domestic violence: I was verbally and physically abused. I was sexually molested when I was 8 to 10 by our family’s priest,” Harold said, adding, “At the time, I couldn’t process it. I started drinking at a very early age, probably my early teens. It helped me to bury the pain.”

Harold felt like the odd man out. He was bullied in high school for being different. Harold was gay, but felt like he had to hide from the world.

“I was bullied and tried to be someone I wasn’t — I dated women, drank heavily, smoked pot and took ecstasy,” Harold said.

To deal with the pain, Harold turned to harder drugs such as meth and cocaine. Thinking a move would fix his problems, Harold crossed state lines but found himself homeless and selling his body for drugs — until he was diagnosed with HIV and paranoia. It was at this point Harold sought help.

“I realized that when I was younger, I hadn’t processed the trauma and pain that I had experienced. Instead of processing it, I had numbed it with the drugs and drinking,” Harold said. “It took time to work through it, but it was so important for me to do that in the process of my recovery.”

Overcoming his past and his addiction was hard, but Harold has some helpful advice for anyone who may be walking a similar path to his.

“I’d tell them to hang in there. You’re about to go through one of the hardest times of your life. It is going to be painful, it is going to hurt, but it’s going to be worth it,” Harold said.

Angie’s Story

Like Harold, someone Angie should have been able to depend on to protect her robbed her of her innocence.

“I had a major trauma in my life when I was 11 years old: I was raped by my step-father. After it happened, I told my mother, and she made me promise not to tell a soul,” Angie said.

Like every child, Angie grew up. She married and had two daughters, both of whom tested her patience. With everything going on, she began having flashbacks to her trauma, and nightmares kept her awake at night. She found rest with a prescription from her doctor — or so she thought.

“I would take my Ambien and go to sleep and I didn’t have to think, I didn’t have to remember, I didn’t have to feel, and I didn’t have to worry. When I took the pills, I didn’t have to be a mom or a wife. I would just go to sleep,” Angie said.

Eventually, Angie began taking pills morning and night. Despite pleadings from her husband to go get help, Angie continued, convinced that she wasn’t addicted. One morning, she had a wake up call.

“Finally, I woke up one morning — it was a Wednesday — and I only had two more pills left. I started having anxiety about not having enough. When I wasn’t taking the pills, everything would come rushing back to me,” Angie said.

Angie called her husband and told him she was ready to go to rehab. She found the help she needed at the Treehouse in Texas, and faced her past head on.

“I learned I was a very brave person. I dealt with my trauma the best way I could deal with it, and I asked for help. I denied help for so long, but in asking for help, I was brave,” Angie said.

Angie says that the key to moving forward after any sort of betrayal is forgiveness.

“You don’t have to forgive the person that did it to you. But you can forgive yourself. And you need to let someone in to help you with it, because you can’t do it all on your own. And that’s OK,” Angie said.

For Harold and Angie, addiction wasn’t a choice. They became addicted in an effort to block out the pain. The truth is, there are other positive, healthy methods to deal with past trauma. With help, you can break free from the negative embrace, and find yourself a better person for it.

Constance Ray started with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Horses in Art: An Interview with Artist Paulina Stasikowska by Gina McKnight

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

Horses in Art: An Interview with Artist Paulina Stasikowska
Archived Article from the May 2017 Issue of Arabian Finish Line

“Art and horses are a very important part of my life.
I can't imagine my life without them.”

From Poland, Paulina Stasikowska has been painting portraits of animals for many years. She has captured the charm, excitement, and passion of animals for people from around the world. A horse enthusiast, Paulina’s portraits of horses are well-known for their subtle detail, exquisite lines, and soothing aesthetics. Interested in art as a young child, Paulina began drawing in early childhood, when she was around four-years-old.

Welcome Paulina!

GM: Specializing in equine art, you must love horses. What is your horse history? 
PS:   I have always liked animals because I grew up around them. I first went to the stables when I was 10 years old because at the time it was my greatest dream to ride horses.

I probably inherited this passion from my great-grandfather, who was a polish uhlan [cavalryman]. He had many horses and loved them very much. After my first visit to the stable nearby, I felt something wonderful. I fell in love with the horses. It seemed to be in my blood.

Paulina and Bonita
Thereafter I only tried to draw horses. They were the main inspiration for my drawings. I made countless number of sketches, trying to capture their beauty.
In the year 2000, I bought my first set of soft pastels. At the beginning when I used them, my drawings looked rough as I pressed down the pastels too heavily on the paper. I haven't had a teacher or any classes so I had to learn by myself how to draw, using them by trial and error. The learning process took a long time, but I had exceptional perseverance.

In the meantime, I finally managed to become a horse owner. This was one of the most memorable moments of my life. My first horse is a mare and I’ve named her Bonita. She is now 13 years old. We spend as much time together as possible. She inspires me every day. I think that I owe many things to her being by my side. She gives me the energy to get through the difficulties of life.

GM: Bonita sounds wonderful! Horses do have the power to help us deal with life’s challenges. Your passion and appreciation for horses is exhibited in your divine art. Describe your studio where you create...
PS:   Nowadays I draw in a small room in my flat, where I have good natural light and all the necessary things; a comfortable chair, a big desk, copious amounts of soft pastels and of course a nice cup of coffee.

GM: Do you have a muse that inspires and drives your creativity?
PS:   As I said before, my muse is my horse Bonita, but I now also own two cats that also appear in my drawings from time to time. I enjoy drawing different types of animals, but horses are still my favourite motif. I am also sometimes inspired by music.

GM:  Some artists paint every day, while others paint when they feel in the mood. What enhances your motivation and do you paint every day or when the mood strikes you?
PS:   When I was younger and had less experience, I had to be in the right mood and have strong inspiration to start drawing something interesting.  Now I only need a comfortable place, a piece of paper and some pastels to get me started as drawing has become a part of my weekly routine.

GM: You use a wide variety of colour and hues. What medium is your favourite to work with?
PS:   I like to experiment with paintings using various materials and techniques. I have used other types of pastels, charcoal, watercolours and more, but by far the soft pastels are still my favourite tool. Many years later since I started using soft pastels, I still discover new ways to draw and express myself with them.

GM: The world is full of equine artists, but you have a special way of bringing the essence of the horse into a room. What techniques do you use to capture the beauty and fluidity of horses?
PS:   What is my special way of bringing the essence of the horse into a room? I think I try to capture a horses’ soul. It's very difficult. They say that the eyes are the mirror of the soul and when you draw the horse’s eyes you have to remember that.

I endeavour for perfection in drawing but I still want to keep improving my skills. Art and horses are a very important part of my life. I can't imagine my life without them. It gives me power and a good attitude in life and helps me perceive the world in many different ways.

GM: Do you have a favourite painting of your own collection?
PS:   I’ve created a special series of horse drawings which I’ve called the “Magic Horses” because I can use much more of my imagination compared with more detailed realistic portraits. The Magic Horses series allows me to show the volatility, lightness, and huge scale of colours, although the drawings appear unfinished. There was also a time when I experimented with fabric paint and painted horses on clothes, it was great fun!

GM: What are you currently painting?
PS:   I'm currently working on my own collection of horse portraits. The first one will be my mare Bonita; she has priority over others :)

Connect with Paulina…

Gina McKnight is an author and freelance writer from Ohio, USA.

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

(c) Paulina Stasikowska, Artist

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Heritage Breeds
Red, red and white
Happy Hogs; cute, friendly, playful
Ready to adopt!
Marietta, Ohio
Small family farm

Call 740 629 4868

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gentle Giants: Whispery Pines Percherons

Gentle Giants: Whispery Pines Percherons
By Gina McKnight

Archived Article from the July 2017 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission

“They are my best friends. I cannot even describe how much I love them.”

Kellie and Sam Rettinger, owners of Whispery Pines Percherons in Kingsville, OH, have been involved in the equine industry their entire lives. I ran into Kellie and Sam last Spring at the Ohio Equine Affaire. Sam Rettinger grew up with draft horses and began driving and showing at a young age. In addition to showing, Sam currently trains their horses to work at the couple’s farm and complete logging projects. Kellie Rettinger grew up riding and showing Quarter Horses in hunt seat, western pleasure, gaming, and cutting. After meeting Sam more than ten years ago, she began to drive, ride, and show draft horses in saddle seat, western pleasure, and Roman riding classes. The Rettingers bring their horses to several events each year to show in different hitch and riding classes. They also provide carriage rides with their Percherons for a variety of events including weddings, birthdays, hay rides, and winter sleigh rides.

Welcome Kellie and Sam!

GM: With an impressive horse history, your riding resume is amazing. When was your first encounter with a horse?
KR: Sam and I both have a family steeped in horses, our first encounters were as babies Sam with his grandfather and myself with my mom and dad. We were both hooked and in love with horses before we could talk.

Sam learned everything from his Grandpa Dick Stasiak. He was an amazing horseman. He had had and shown draft horses his whole life, and started Sam at two years old with draft horses. He competed at many fairs and owned Clydesdales, Belgians, and Percherons. Grandpa was a local legend and known for being a true cowboy.  The knowledge that was lost when he passed was great.

GM: Your Percherons are lovely. Describe your stable, your horses, and your daily routine...
KR: Our farm is a working farm, we have nine head total. We have about thirty acres, make all of our own hay, have tie stalls and box stalls and pasture. Our barn is full of tons of harness and collars.  Describe my horses........??????? lol…well they are my best friends, I cannot even describe how much I love them. They are our world. They all have different personalities and make us laugh on a daily basis. Several of my biggest characters are Tony, Ace, and Hawke.

Tony is the happiest horse that I have ever met! He is such a willing worker always aiming to please. He is sweet, loves attention, hates his baths, has a soft eye and sometimes is mischievous. He is loved by many people and is the leader of our six-horse hitch. He is the ruler of our pasture even though he is not the biggest. We do not have favorites in the barn but Tony is very special to Sam.

Hawke is so funny, he is quirky, loves to play and show off, and buck....A LOT! He has been my long-time cart horse and has seen me through a lot.  Hawke is also a willing worker, he lets me ride him, and he always has my back. He loves his baths, is a jack-of-all-trades horse and just fun to drive. He is in the swing of our six. Sam bought him for me and I fell in love immediately.

And then there is Ace... He is quite the legend. He was the first horse that Sam ever bought me when we first started dating twelve years ago. Ace is the horse that I learned to drive, ride, everything. He is one of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen, and still the "man"! He is famous at our local fairs where people just come to the barn to see Ace. I have put him through a lot; costumes, riding, accidents, ups, downs. You name it, Ace has done it.  He loves pulling and still performs like he is three. Ace hates his bath and is also quite mischievous. He is the wheel in our six. He was our Grandpa’s favorite, and Grandpa is buried with a piece of Ace’s mane. This horse has taught me so much.

Daily routine consists of chores morning and night. Working horses, cleaning barn, and all depending upon the weather, the horses going to the woods to log with Sam and Dylan. Dylan is the worker. I have logged with Sam before, but I also work full-time in nursing at our local hospital.

The rest of the boys are all quite amazing as well, each one of them special in their own way.

GM: So big, yet so humble; Percherons have a reputation for being gentle giants. Can you share an anecdote about one of your Percherons?
KR: After a long day of showing at the Fair - it was sweltering hot outside - we went to the midway to get some ice cream, I bought the biggest ice cream cone I could get. We went back to the barn to check on the horses, a little girl wanted to pet Ace. So with ice cream cone in hand I opened the stall door so the little girl could see him. That horse reached right around me and stole my whole ice cream cone!!!!! This thing was huge!!!!! The little girl thought that was hilarious and laughed and laughed! Have you ever seen a horse get brain freeze? Priceless! LOL! His face made us laugh so hard. Needless to say, I am careful where I take my ice cream cone!!!

GM: As a competitive rider in state and national events, what is different about showing draft horses vs. Thoroughbreds, etc.?
KR: Showing drafts vs. Thoroughbreds. Well I know there is much that goes into other riding disciplines but...there is nothing like going on the road with a six or eight horse hitch. I cannot even begin to tell you how much work goes into what we do. I started over four months to prepare for Equine Affaire! Organization can sometimes be difficult, but we make it work. We literally bring everything but the barn out on the road with us. LOL! Because we are involved in so much we require to have all different types of things. We have a semi-truck and trailer, camper, enclosed trailer, and a flatbed trailer that always goes out on the road with us. We have anywhere from six to ten people who travel with us.

There is much work that goes into all of this and it is not just Sam and myself. We have a crew of family and friends to help us. Each person plays a special role for Whispery Pines Percherons. To get ready for the six, each horse takes well over one hour of preparation from braiding, bathing, harnessing, grooming, etc. Without these people, there is no Whispery Pines Percherons.

GM: Showing in saddle seat, western pleasure, and Roman riding classes sounds fun! Which is your favorite event to compete in and who is your go-to horse for your favorite event?
KR: I love everything that I show in whether it be a ground drive obstacle or the six or riding. But if had to choose what some of my most favorite moments are. One of my first would be driving the six. That right there is a rush! I am very proud to drive it because not many women do. I know Sam also loves driving it, too. He is completely amazing when he drives, he is just natural at it. He feels the horses through the lines. It is like it is exactly what he was born to do. Roman Riding is something I have wanted to do my whole life and was just downright awesome. You feel like you are riding on top of the world. One of my favorite horses to show is Candyman. He is such a proud horse and really turns it on when we hit the show ring.  Sam loves showing Tony.

GM: Tack. Lots of large tack for large horses! How do you keep it all cleaned and polished? Does each horse have their own set of tack? What does a set of tack for each horse include?
KR: There is so much that goes into tack. Each horse has their own harness especially fitted for him. Each harness weighs well over 150 pounds. We probably have well over twenty harnesses - between work and show harnesses. Each set is used for something different, from work to parade, to wedding, to show. Much goes into cleaning and oiling the leather and keeping the chrome polished and shiny. We all take part in the cleaning. Each set includes bridle, collar, hames, 2 tugs, backpad, belly band, britchen, and chest piece. Not only that but when you start to hook multiple hitches you have different parts of harness for the different hitches. And then the lines, single, team, unicorn, four, six, eight.

GM: Taking a carriage ride pulled by a Percheron sounds enchanting. You provide carriage rides for all types of events, including winter sleigh rides, weddings, and birthdays. What is the best way to schedule an event?
KR: I love having the carriage business!!!!! We get to let someone experience our horses on a personal level, and it allows us to bring our love of horses to the world. We get to share in some peoples most important days in their lives and help celebrate holidays and birthdays! All events are scheduled through me.

GM: Let’s talk about Percherons and horse logging. Truly, it is a skill to be able to tether Percherons to a log and guide them through the forest. There must be a lot of training involved. Do the other others play a part in training novice horses for logging? When you purchase standing timber, do you use the horses to pull the logs out of the forest?
KR: My husband Sam does select harvest of mature timber. He uses the horses to skid the logs out of the woods. This method is extremely low impact on the land. It is quite amazing to watch Sam maneuver through the woods all while the horses are pulling logs that can weigh up to 8,000 pounds. Dylan Loomis that works for us also skids as well. I have also skidded before too. Sam and I train these young horses to begin a career in the woods. You have to have a smart, attentive, strong horse to work in the woods. The versatility and willingness to work is what makes the Percheron breed so awesome. They have the grace and beauty to pull a fine carriage but can also work all day in the woods or in the plow.

GM: Do you have advice for those who are new to the horse industry looking to purchase Percherons?
KR: Get in touch with the Percheron Horse Association of America. They can refer you to people who can assist. Go to your local fairs and try to meet people, check out draft horse sales. Do some research. Check out breeders, try to learn from everyone.

GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
KR: Horsemanship means to me the ability to earn their trust, build a relationship, become a team and to truly understand what he thinks. Respect them and never lose patience. Sam and I love what we do! We love horses so much and feel so lucky to be able to do what we do. We work very, very hard, but it is all worth it. I feel like horses make us better people, everyday spent with our horses is a great day.

One of my most favorite quotes by Ronald Duncan
" The horse. Here is nobility without conceit, friendship without envy, beauty without vanity. A willing servant, yet never a slave."

Connect with Kelly and Sam…

Gina McKnight is an author and freelance writer from Ohio, USA.

Milliron Monday: The Recordings 4

  Abbott "Pete" Smith D.V.M.:   June 16, 1938 - February 22, 2010 Virginia Joyann "Jody" Haley Smith: April 2, 1938 - Ma...