When Amie Kleva looks at a fallen tree, she doesn't see waste; she sees possibilities.
There are many reasons wood is the medium of choice for the Somers Point-based artist, chief among them the mystery of exploring a new piece.
"I don't know. Trees give us life, and they have a lot of meaning," Kleva said. "I just love every part of it. I love cutting into it, I'm so excited to see what's inside, and now as you refine it and go down. Just what emerges is unbelievable sometimes."
Kleva, 35, graduated from Egg Harbor Township High School in 1995 and attended East Carolina College, where she earned her Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in woodworking in 2002. She has done several projects to date, making mostly vessels, utensils and furniture out of a variety of woods.
Her current project is her most ambitious to date: an Egg Harbor Township woman has commissioned Kleva to make salad bowls and utensil sets out of a tree that had fallen in her mother's yard during the June 30 derecho.
Some of the wood is now drying in a shed behind her house. The rest sits on the lawn beside her workshop, exposed to the elements. This wood is known as "green" or "wet" wood, and she will cut into it before its inner layers are fully dry, allowing a degree of randomness into the process as the newly exposed wood slightly warps and cracks.
The unpredictability of wet wood is exciting to Kleva, who said she likes to allow the characteristics of a piece of wood to dictate what she makes of it, rather than trying to exert complete control.
"Each one of them has certain capabilities, you kind of have to look at what you're working with, first where the cracks are, how deep they may go in, what kind of knots you have going on," Kleva said, looking over a piece of wet wood. "Like this part, there's three branches that came out of here, so it's more likely to have more cracks, so you have to look out for stuff like that."
Kleva lived and worked in California after graduating from college, taking commissions and teaching woodworking classes in the little time she could spare from her job as an animator. She recently moved back to South Jersey and is in her first year as an art teacher at Assumption Regional Catholic School in Galloway Township.
Her style is characterized by soft lines and rounded edges and can best be categorized as modernist, her cousin George Kleva said. He is a woodworker himself, as well as a patron and admirer of her work.
"Her finished work is fantastic," he said. "She's a generally creative person, and she has her own style and that's unique, to find a person that age, in my mind it takes years to acquire those kinds of likes and dislikes."
Because Kleva had little room and time to spare in California, maintaining her hobby was often a challenge. Now, she has a full workshop in which to keep her tools, and a steady job, allowing her the time to cultivate her woodworking career.
Should the jobs - and a little bit of luck - keep coming her way, she'll have a healthy future working in the medium.
"You could see some of her stuff in a gallery in New York in four or five years," George Kleva said, "in a couple of years, if the right people entered her life. Right now she's a local artist, but I think her upside potential is bigtime."
To contact Kleva or to see or purchase her work, visit her website at amiejean.com.
Contact Braden Campbell: