By Lee Noles
WAXHAW – One of the first things you notice when walking through Lynn Rivera’s workshop in the countryside of Union County is how much she knows about trees. Rivera’s knowledge is so pronounced, she can grab a block of wood and tell you the type just by looking at the grain and color.
“This is oak,” Rivera said before picking up another block. “This right here is pink ivory. It came from Africa. The colors are amazing. Look at the bright red, the blues and oranges. Just beautiful.”
Rivera’s passion shines through when she carves each piece of wood into elaborate writing pens and other items, which she sells in area art shops. She started eight years ago after attending a friend’s craft lesson on pen making. It has since grown to include letter openers and bottle stoppers.
“I am not an artist. People have said that, but I just don’t feel like what I do is being an artist,” Rivera said. “I just reveal the beauty of the wood. It’s nature who is more of the artist.”
Much of the wood Rivera uses comes with a story. One piece arrived after her neighbor hooked a fallen apple tree to his tractor and pulled it to her back door.
The pink ivory was an important tree to the Zulu tribe in Africa and cannot be cut down by people. According to Rivera, the only way it can be sold is if an elephant knocks the tree down.
The black walnut tree in Rivera’s side yard is still is standing, but there is a large limb that is split following a recent thunderstorm.
“I am looking forward to working with that,” Rivera said.
Once she has the type of wood she wants, Rivera splits it into two before drilling a hole into each piece. She then glues a brass top into the holes. Rivera proceeds to trim the wood so it is flush with the tube and places it into a lathe to cut away the excess wood. Rivera then shapes the pen into the design she wants. The final part is placing liquid acrylic on the pen to bring a shine. The process can take anywhere from four to 10 hours.
“One thing I learned from this is patience,” Rivera said. “Because if you try to force the drill too hard, it would get too hot. You cannot rush with the tools, because it will break the wood.”
She motivated herself to get better at her craft by creating a wooden box she coined the hall fame for the pens she deemed high quality. When she made a pen better than one in the box, she took out the older pens and gave them to family and friends. After a while, she realized she was getting pretty good at what she did because she had more pens than people to give them to.
“It’s not really hard to do, and it really doesn’t take any skill,” Rivera said. “I just have the patience, and I have gotten experience over the years.”
The abundance of pens had Rivera deciding to put them into shops. Rivera, however, said being her own salesperson really isn’t her thing. She’s not big on putting pictures online to entice buyers.
Even though Rivera isn’t focused on sales, her craft still draws recognition.
Rivera was recently approached by a client to make a special pen after the customer saw Rivera’s work at 47K Marketplace in Monroe. The woman enjoyed going to the Double Door Inn in Charlotte before it closed in 2016. The woman hired Rivera to create four pens from a table that was at the Inn.
“I am sensitive to how it looks,” Rivera said. “When someone uses one of them, they notice. The comment I get when someone uses it is they can’t forget who gave it to them. They just remember who it was. That is important.”