Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Smithsonian to feature area artisan's work

By Andrea R. Paternoster

Contributing Writer

TREADWELL — In his 10 or so years in Delaware County, Don Green, 36, of Delhi has evolved from an artist to a businessman and back to an artisan.

All facets, of course, are included in his daily work as a furniture maker at his small plant in Treadwell. He, his wife, Jennifer, and their three children, ages 9, 8 and "brand new," have carved a niche in the county, enjoying the fruits of rural life and a successful business called Greentree.

Green, originally from Philadelphia, was trained as a sculptor in the Philadelphia College of Art, where he earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts. He has, one learns quickly, an opinion on most subjects.

"Your undergraduate degree should be in something useless," he says. "It should be for your head — not for your job. They train a million sculptors, and only a handful can make a living."

For Green, there must have been some promise following graduation, though, because he was asked to return as an artist in residence and run the furniture design shop for the school. His story, he says, is different, in that he went to the school for art — and learned to make furniture.

Green's exposure at PCA was concentrated on sculpture. He spent most of his time learning figure modeling, drawing and 3-D. He spent a semester in a quarry in the South of France learning to carve stone.

Although furniture-making is his living, Green still dabbles in other media, such as sand casting. He has designed candlesticks that are to be cast in bronze. His part consists of fabricating the design, making a mold and forwarding it on for production.

He is, however, realistic about the demands of business. "For a guy to be in a wood shop and think you can make what you want and make a living is a pipe dream," he says.

When he first started in business, Green built one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture and consigned them to galleries. Green got married a year after graduation, and, after a while, things changed.

"Once kids started coming along, it was no way to operate. I used to subscribe to that 'field of dreams' marketing school: 'I will build it, and they will come."'

Reality, however, was different. In response, Green morphed into the world of tough wholesale, providing the likes of Williams Sonoma and Ethan Allen with original, although mass-produced, pieces. He soon learned, however, that big business had big demands and long billing periods, and he decided to exit the venue.

Green had been working in mahogany as a matter of course, but eventually found getting the quality he demanded too expensive. He now works mostly in cherry and maple, which, luckily, is the market demand of the day.

"The raw product comes in my door, and the finished product goes out the door," is his simple summation.

The main outlet for Green's furniture is small gallery-type outfits and gift stores. Products run the gamut from stools to tables, and his current fascination is trying to learn how to make turned bowls.

His other outlet has a certain cachet, however. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., has a show featuring glass, jewelry, basketry and woodworking.

"Artisans drool to get in this show," Green says. "It is very difficult to get into, for some reason." Eventually, almost shyly, he admits that his entry in this April's show will not be his first. He is one of the few who can boast of multiple appearances, having displayed several times.

"A lot of people think it's the cat's meow," he says.

Green's work is also featured in the American Craftsman Museum in New York. He is one of the collateral victims of the Sept. 11 disaster, in that The New York Times had planned to cover the Sept. 11 opening of a show at the museum featuring some of Green's work. Instead, the show opened a few weeks before Christmas, without the presence of The Times.

Although he is committed to his craft, Green is also dedicated to his family and to the art of his profession. He grates a little at the practicalities of life.

"I am done at 50," he says firmly. "I'm doing what I have to do, and then my work will change. If I have to, I'll pile it in a barn somewhere; that's OK; it'll be fine. All of the business baloney will be done."

Then he has an afterthought. "With a little baby," he admits, "it might be a little longer."

In the meantime, though, it's a tight business structure. Jennifer sees to the publicity, bookkeeping and general direction of the business. Green, with the help of a now full-time assistant, turns out his unique styles.

"Jennifer really runs the whole show," Green says. "I just make the work."

Under all of the ambition and the frustrated artistry, though, is a content man.

"I really like it here," he says. "It suits us. Here, I could afford mistakes with the low overhead. When I get older, though, I want to get warmer when it gets colder. I just want to be wearing a pair of flip-flops. "

Green's business is a point of pride for more than just the family.

"Greentree has been an active member of the chamber since September of 2000," said Mary Beth Silano, the new president of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce.

"Because of the restrictions on Delaware County concerning watershed regulation, coupled with the factor that Delaware County does not meet the criteria for an Empire Zone, large companies are hesitant to relocate to Delaware County. Therefore, I believe small business development is essential for economic growth in Delaware County," she said

Silano said Greentree is an "excellent example" of this because of its ability to take advantage of local products and vendors.

"Greentree's special item products could attract the tourism industry, which is an integral factor for generating revenue in Delaware County," Silano said.

Green is philosophical about his work.

"I'm a furniture maker/

designer," he says. "I'm not the greatest maker to walk the Earth, but I am a pretty good designer."

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