OWASCO | When Joe Sarnicola retired, he hardly slowed down.
An Auburn native, he graduated from Auburn High School in 1972 and eventually become an employee of the Auburn Enlarged City School District, spending 30 years as a custodian. He retired in 2011.
With his golden years still a few years ahead of him, Sarnicola, 58, said he knew of plenty of people who view the onset of suddenly open schedules with anxiety and indecision.
"Retirement was almost something they feared," he said. "My problem is I have too many interests."
One of the many hobbies practiced by the former newspaper writer, storyteller and guitar teacher is rather new. He's taken up woodworking and has started an enterprise to sell his wares: Crafta Sarnatura.
"'Crafta,' it's not an Italian word, but I put an 'a' on it and it sounds like one," he said.
Identifying with his own Italian heritage, Sarnicola also fiddled with his surname to create "Sarnatura," which sums up the essence of his handiwork — nature, or natural.
Sarnicola doesn't have far to go to find the materials he needs to create his artwork. He searches his backyard for the twigs, branches, pine cones and pieces of bark he uses to make rustic birdhouses and whimsical fairy houses. He buys shells, sand, colored stone and tiny, plastic fairy princesses at craft stores.
"I think everything I do tells a story. And I like to think that it allows someone to tell whatever story they want to," he said.
He claims that his strength is in the conception of an idea.
"I'm pretty good at putting things together," he said. "I have a pretty good eye for design."
After the death of his wife, Rita, Sarnicola decided to put his own decorative stamp on the Owasco house they shared. Grabbing paintings and prints of forest and outdoor scenes in thrift stores and at garage sales inspired him to personalize someone else's cast-offs. For example, he's adorned the frame of a woodland setting that hangs in his living room with wooden bears.
"I've always been interested in the arts," he said.
After receiving positive feedback, and sales, from customers at his first show, September's Venice Biennale, Sarnicola knew he was on to something.
"There seems to be a door that's opening at the moment," he said.
Sarnicola easily cops to not being a trained fine artist, but enjoys making his unique three-dimensional crafts. Behind his self-effacing sense of humor hints at the hope of a flourishing future once retirement truly becomes a reality.
"When you put yourself out there, there's always an element of risk." He feigns a swoon and alters his voice, continuing, "I could be rejected."
He's added to his collection of bird and fairy houses by creating centerpieces from second-hand glassware. In the shallow cups of stemmed wine glasses he places silk and dried flowers and fits them with cut mirrored glass and inverts them. He's ventured into making snow globes and aspires to making wall art of outdoor scenes from patches and scraps of various tree bark.
Sarnicola carves out time from his schedule as a custodian at Cayuga Centers to sit at his kitchen table and assemble his art, his small family of cats making his work difficult by batting about branches and twigs.
"There's no regular pressure; I find it very rewarding," he said. "If the cats let me."