A background in construction, civic engagement, agriculture, and creating a therapeutic program for children may seem like an unlikely combination, but it describes the route AnnMarie Sasso took to create her woodcraft company, Willow Hill Equities.
Using a sawmill, Sasso derives inspiration from her multi-faceted background to seamlessly create unique organic carvings that maintain the natural contours of the wood from which it is made. She is also a 4H leader, board member at Yorktown Grange, and Superintendent of Yorktown Grange Fair. It all ties into what she does with wood.
“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done with animals and with youth,” said Sasso. “It’s rewarding to create something where you constantly challenge yourself to have a vision. I don’t have any advanced degree in this, I just work hard. I don’t think about it a lot, I just have a lot of energy.
The pieces range in size from cutting boards to barn doors, and include chairs, benches, sofas, tables, fireplace mantels and barn doors. She also works with metal or other parts making artwork or clocks as inspired. The style is free-form and dictated by the wood itself, following the live edges.
“It’s very natural and organic, keeping the natural aesthetics of its shape and rings,” Sasso said. “I make cool legs and keep the shape of the trunk or branch. All of the timber comes from fallen trees. I do not cut down trees that are thriving.”
Sasso has been crafting in general for a while, as a horticulturalist working with flowers and other crafts. She also had experience building things and working with wood through a construction business that she owned and ran. In 2014, she helped a colleague reorganize her farm and became intrigued with the sawmill.
“I knew about sawmills but never paid much attention to what you can do with them,” Sasso said. “From there I was hooked. I started making charcuterie boards and cutting boards with scrap pieces.”
Feeling that her construction company was coming to a crossroads with competition from local contractors, Sasso decided to sell some of her equipment so she could buy a sawmill to work with.
“I researched a lot and ended up in this community of people who understood the drying component of working with wood and different kinds of logs and were able to guide me to which machines were good,” said Sasso. “It was fascinating to me because I could rescue a piece of tree or trunk from a tree that fell and make crafts out of it.”
Around that time, Sasso had developed and launched an animal-assisted therapy program for a Residential Treatment Facility in Valhalla. She used her newfound avocation to work with the children, making benches and other items for the facility’s garden.
“It gave me an opportunity to continue providing activities for the youth,” Sasso said. “Having the sawmill just made sense for me. I was making gifts and using all the scrap wood to make my own pieces and going to market.”
Sasso has found a home for her artwork in several locations. As an original member of Croton River Artisans, she creates and displays her work in a supportive and inspiring environment.
“The concept was to bring together a bunch of artists in this very artistic and creative community. All of us contribute to paying the rent and displaying and selling our work,” said Sasso. “Being in this group of artists is so inspiring. It includes multimedia artists, sculptors, glass artists – different mediums, and that is very inspiring and encourages more creativity. It opens you up to expand your own ideas and creativity and brings you in different directions.”
In addition to selling her pieces individually, Sasso works with interior designer Denise Wenaquor of DW Design and Décor in Croton-on-Hudson on a commission basis for her clients.
“She has commissioned me to do a few things for some really beautiful homes, and wants to commission me for future homes,” said Sasso. “Mixing wood with metal and current style works well with her sensibilities.”
Her work can also serve to connect communities with their past. When a 250-year-old swamp white oak tree, known as the Merwin Oak, fell in Croton’s Vassallo Park, Sasso milled out one of the trunks and made a table dedicated to the tree. The table will be displayed in Village Hall. She has also created a “time capsule trunk” for the Croton 125 Committee [see Croton 125 article elsewhere in this issue].
“I’m going to make a mantle clock and serving platters for town representatives,” Sasso said. “This is great stuff, it’s all community service. The town’s been very generous with promoting this as well.”
For more about Sasso, read THIS article in DW Design & Décor.
Dave Hoffman is a freelance writer and author of Producing Success: A Career Guide for Conference Producers. He runs events across the region.