Milton resident Bob Weston is a student of the architectural Bible known as "Form, Function and Design."
Born and raised in north New Jersey, Weston spent the early half of his life working in restaurants before he realized his real calling. At age 35, as the 1970s gas crunch took a toll on the restaurant industry, he walked away for something different. "I wanted to see if I would enjoy working with my hands," he said.
His first call to a north Jersey cabinetmaker hit pay dirt. Weston said he can't thank master carpenter Robert Huyler enough for giving him an apprenticeship for a year. "He was a great designer," Weston said about his mentor.
With one year's experience, Weston's entrepreneurial instinct took over, and he started his own company with a $100,000 contract to do commercial mill work for Merrill Lynch in Manhattan. Over more than a decade, Weston built up a company that would install doors, door frames, baseboard and other details at offices throughout Manhattan.
But there was something missing.
"On a plane ride back from company business in Los Angeles, I looked at my hands. There were no cuts or calluses. I realized that I missed working with my hands," he said.
In 1987, after deciding to sell his company to his employees, the stock market crash forced a different outcome. Work dried up, falling from $4 million in booked jobs to $200,000. The company closed.
Weston used his newfound freedom as an opportunity to start over. He and his wife, Suzanne Dietrich, bought a home with some property and a barn that he turned into his Wood Art Studio. For 20 years, he built up a business making furniture and fixtures for homes in New Jersey, Long Island and Manhattan. "I had my 15 minutes of fame, working for movers and shakers in Manhattan," he said.
In those days, relaxing always revolved around the Jersey Shore for Weston, his wife and daughter. They eventually moved their points south to Cape May, and one day, on a whim, decided to take a trip to Delaware. "That was the beginning," Weston said. "We came here in 2001, stayed at the Bellmoor Inn and immediately loved southern Delaware."
In 2009, the couple moved to their home in Cannery Village. Officially retired, but with an energy and intensity that has propelled him through life, Weston said knew he wanted to do more. "I made up my mind I wouldn't just hang around playing golf," he said, although admitting he enjoys playing golf.
With only a high school degree, Weston says he educated himself through books. "I never went to college. I hated school with a passion," he said. A bookshelf in his basement holds volumes about Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Art Nouveau, Impressionism and a book that guided him throughout his years in the construction world – "Form, Function and Design."
Building a shop in his basement, Weston began working with a material he had used for years – wood.
He said he first used veneers in 1990 while working as a cabinetmaker. "I was coaxed to put veneer on a bar," he said, proudly showing a photograph he still keeps of the finished product. "That's what got me started."
At first, though, he said, he started carving chess sets out of blocks of wood. "But I found out quickly that there's no market for chess sets," he said. Moving on to veneer, he began creating geometric quilt patterns out of the thin sheets of wood, which he then framed.
He later expanded to nature scenes, using different types and shades of wood to give texture. With his sharp blue eyes, a steady hand and a great attention to detail, he cuts each piece for his designs.
His basement now serves as a studio with dozens of veneer artworks gracing the walls. He said he has made about 200 pieces since 2009. "I've been told that I'm very lucky to have sold half of my artwork," he said.
He still does one-day shows in Bethany Beach and Ocean City, he said, but most of his sales are made through Facebook at Robert Bruce Weston where people can contact him for a private viewing. "This art sells itself when people can actually stand in front of it," he said.