Betty Campbell often returns home to a pile of tree limbs set neatly on her front lawn.

Strangers will dump the tree branches by her doorstep after doing yard work, or she'll get a call from a neighbor when a downed tree is spotted. Then, she'll grab her chain saw, drive to the site and return home with her back seat and trunk overflowing with tree limbs.

Campbell, of Villas, is a woodturner.

She collects the unused wood from broken furniture, construction projects and fallen trees and transforms it into wooden artwork such as bowls, pen blanks and spinning tops.

Campbell is also one of the about 20 juried artists in the Cape May County Artists' Cooperative.

Their art varies from beadwork and fused glass to sculpted candles, and is sold out of the West End Garage, a marketplace-style gallery located on West Perry Street in Cape May.

Campbell has been a member of the co-op since it formed in 2009.

"When I was invited to be a part of the co-op, I was thrilled," she said. "I thought, 'This is great. I have all these bowls under my bed,' and it just cleaned me out completely."

Campbell recently took her place before her lathe, the machine tool used to shave and shape wood, to demonstrate the art of woodturning. The lathe rotates the item being shaped on a horizontal axis, while an abrasive tool is used to shape it.

After securing a 2-by-4-inch block of rosewood onto the machine, Campbell put on her safety visor and coveralls, and flipped the switch. The lathe roared to life, spinning the block of wood in a dizzying, circular motion.

Campbell then took a gouge, a kind of chisel, and ran its metal edge along the spinning block, sending a blizzard-like stream of wood shavings into the air and onto her coveralls, worktable and the floor around her - the beginning of a gumball-sized toy spinning top.

With each swipe of the metal gouge to the wooden block, the piece became smaller and more defined, as if the toy had been hidden inside of the wood the entire time, and it was Campbell's job to dig it out.

After about five minutes of shaping, sanding and polishing, the top was complete. Campbell then released it from the lathe and gave it a whirl, giggling like a child as the wooden toy spun across her worktable.

"The nice thing about a lathe is you always come back to center when you're working," she said. "So if you're making a top, you're always going to come to a point that will spin. I like to think that's what woodturning does for me, too. It brings me back to being centered."

Cape May artists Janet Payne and Paige Cunningham founded the Cape May County Artists Cooperative in 2009 with a vision of creating an art destination within Cape May.

"A place where local artists could come together to sell their work," Payne said.

Originally, the co-op was supposed to be a two-month, offseason stint. A storefront was for rent on Broadway, so the women gathered a group of local artists, including Campbell, and filled the space with their artwork to be sold.

"I couldn't believe how many sales we made in those first two months," Campbell said.

But given its success, Payne and Cunningham negotiated with West End Garage to become its cornerstone store, and the co-op continued on, becoming what it is today.

Co-op member Diane Flanegan, a fused- and stained-glass artist from Cape May, said the co-op and West End Garage have become a haven for local artists and a hidden gem for anyone interested in buying one-of-a-kind, locally made art.

"It's a place where we, as artists, can actually make money," Flanegan said. "As an artist, I just have the urge to create. I work in my studio every single day. I have to be able to get rid of it. People have to buy it. The West End Garage is an outlet where people are buying stuff. We're buying stuff from each other."

Contact Elisa Lala:


See how it's done

To see a video of Betty Campbell working with the lathe to create a top, see this story in the Lower Cape Hometown section of and click on the link to the video.

Stay informed! Sign up to receive top headlines delivered to your inbox each morning.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.