ST. PAULS — Tino and Carole Ferro’s St. Pauls home is a work of art.
A mix of components old and new; man-made and natural; newly-painted and long-rusted; found and recycled, form the wooden-plank-covered home and its matching workshop that come into view after a short drive down a dirt road. The structure is a habitable version of the couple’s creations — a style to which if Tino had to put a name, he would call “impressionist, except in three-dimensional form.”
“It might take the form of a chicken,” he says of the metal outdoor sculptures he welds and rivets together, “but the way we see it, it is not the way it is traditionally seen.”
Reclining against a work table in the Ferro’s shop is an uncompleted rooster, flying away from the sun with talons raised, formed by bits and peices of metal found in a scrap yard — including the tops of two oil filters. Nearby sits a partially-painted Great Blue Heron, one of the couple’s best-selling pieces, and a peacock with metal feathers sharp to the touch.
The couple splits time between the St. Pauls home six months of the year, creating peices for their Frog Pond Farm Gallery in Little York, N.Y, where they have a family cottage that sits near the Finger Lakes. While working at the Frog Pond Studio, the couple hosts garden clubs who often seek out metal sculptures, sells peices online and on Craigslist — and creates work for places such as The Exploration Station in Lumberton, where a pair of flying pigs, a milkable cow and a horse large enough for children to ride currently rest.
Outside, weathered sculptures are nestled into a wild lanscape. Five-foot-tall soldiers peek from behind tall grass, and a miniature wind turbine topped with a flying insect that the couple deemed “the bee from hell” sits in two giant mounds of Rosemary. Inside, hornets nests hang from the ceiling over hand-carved benches, chairs and tables, all dwarfed by a towering clock that tops a tree-trunk carving showing detail of several bear cubs. Ceramic tiles from a 20-year “great adventure” in Portugal form a mural on the wall.
The home, like its material inhabitants, is a mash-up — a conglomeration. Once a mobile home office, it has been equipped with a front porch, a sun room, and a back screened-in area, all to house the couple’s “treasures” — both made and found. An upstairs room, just big enough for a bed and nightstand and a sloped-roof bathroom with a toilet and sink, is reached after a climb accompanied by a railing made of wood, metal and stained glass.
“We did what we wanted to do with it, anyway, but for a while we thought we weren’t supposed to be here,” Carole said.
She’s speaking of how the house arrived in St. Pauls — after a single-wide they had originally purchased had fallen off of a truck on the way to the home and they had ordered the double-wide, only to see half of it slide off a jack-knifed trailer into the woods of their property. It took all day for the crew to hand-wench it into place, she said.
The couple bought the property after an art show in Charlotte and several in Fayetteville, where they did “very well.” A man they had met, Boyd Sweeney, told them of a farmer named Jim Wright who had land for sale, but they didn’t get their hopes up until seeing the place.
“Being from New York, of course we thought it was some kind of scam,” Tino said.
But Carole said the move was also serendipitous — her great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee, and from North Carolina. Now, things she once owned dot the walls, and are weaved into art Carole creates.
Both Tino and Carole, married 51 years, have been artists “all their lives.” Tino’s father, born in Italy, was a blacksmith and an artist, but worked to repair machinery in the New York mills. He learned smithing from him, much against his father’s will, who wanted him to study and “would avoid at all costs” answering Tino’s questions about his trade. He died when Tino was 17 years old, and his son took over this trade.
Carole says as a child, she had “always been drawing and doing crazy things,” and wanted to go to art school, but couldn’t afford it and got a business degree instead.
The two met in high school, and “everything worked perfectly,” Carole said, even though “our area was not ready for our type of art and they thought it was crazy.”
The couple had six children in nine years, and things were hard at first, Tino said. In the mid-1960s, he said, the budget for art was scarce.
“It was horrible, but we had the will to be free and the will to create. … We could look back and say that it was hard, but it was a lot of fun, too.”
Now, the couple “works fast,” with Tino doing much of the construction and Carole painting and sealing the finished pieces.
They can meet their gallery quota, Carole says, if she can stay away from the thrift stores — and if Tino can stay from underneath what she calls a “green thing,” a 1951 International.
“We collect junk — what can I say?” she said.