Ever drive by a new business, wonder what is going on there, but then keep going without giving the place a second thought?
Act II Custom Wood Productions opened mid-April at 812 Stanford Road at the foot of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville and is all about second thoughts.
“I take reclaimed wood and turn it into something useful,” said owner Phillip Pickthall about the items in his working studio.
Pickthall doesn’t consider himself an artist because what he produces are not original designs.
“I am an engineer,” he said. “Tell me your idea or show me an example and I will figure out a way to make it.”
He is no fan of purely ornamental works. Thus, what he has for sale with his name on it can be described best as practical and purposeful — but “artsy” has to be in the description as well, whether he likes it or not.
Along with specially-made pieces, a large portion of his business is in restorations of old wood works, such as an antique dresser he has currently. Built a couple of centuries ago, his intention is to return the piece to the condition the builder intended when it left his shop as a new piece of furniture.
Much of what he does in restorations, he said, is repairing the well-meaning but unskilled work of others on a piece. He also creates and installs wares such as high-end cabinetry in remodels or in new construction. He likely could provide this service without breaking an artistic-sweat if what he says about his past work is true.
The giant, solid-gold scarab at the Luxor in Los Vegas? Yup. That was him. The Starship Enterprise at the Hilton there? Ditto.
“If I can see it, I can build it,” he said.
His location in Danville is a working studio and smells of worked wood. The back rooms are filled with sawdust and mysterious metal tools, large and small. There also are slabs of reclaimed barn wood and ancient felled timber, some pulled from burn piles that survived incineration because of being too old, hard and stubborn to burn.
A short walk through the woods behind his building leads into Pioneer Playhouse property, and the bones of what was once an old barn are now a treasure trove for Pickthall’s purposes.
“I was driving downtown recently and saw a tree that had been cut down and they were hauling away, so I stopped ... and asked ...,” he said.
The massive rounds of ancient hardwood are sunning now just behind his shop. The homeowner saw refuse. He saw tabletops.
Pickthall came to Danville on a job for a local corporation and liked it.
He and his wife, Martha, moved here in 2006. His education background is in engineering; thus, he considers himself an engineer. Could it be engineering, done with such passion and respect for the reclaimed wood medium, is a pure definition of art?
Pickthall will not hear of it. “No, not my original ideas,” he said.
He points to a three-legged table and said the design has been with him since he saw one like it as a kid.
Other artistic pieces in his showroom, including some created for purely ornamental purposes, are from local wood-medium artists who will sell the pieces exclusively in his new venue.