Until a few years ago, Gene Rivera's experience with wood, saw, nails and hammer included building movie sets in Hawaii or doing small projects about his house and yard.
However, Rivera, who was born and reared in Hawaii says he is a fast learner and that fact is evident in the quality of wood crafts he now shows and sells at Valdese Heritage Arts Center on Main Street, Valdese.
Small furniture pieces, step stools, quilt racks, shelves, both table lamps and floor lamps, wine bottle holders, candle holders, piggy banks, paper towel holders, wooden bowls, animal treasure boxes, bird houses and feeders and much more boasts Rivera's perfectionism in wood crafting.
Rivera came to the states in 1970 and has lived in Burke County since 1990.
After retiring from Blyth Construction Company in Charlotte, where he was for many years a foreman in road construction, he began pursuing other areas of interest.
He took a woodworking class at the Morganton-Burke Senior Center in Morganton and caught on really fast. He said he replaced his amateur tools for better ones. "If you want to make good furniture, you have to get quality precision tools," Rivera said.
Rivera first began displaying and selling his creations at the senior center.
VHAC member Blaka Abee said she first saw Rivera's work at the senior center and fell in love with it. "I contacted Gene by telephone in November, and asked him if he would consider joining the Valdese Heritage Arts Center co-op," Abee said. "He accepted my offer, and he's been an enthusiastic member ever since."
"I get a lot of satisfaction from my woodwork," Rivera said, "and I felt excited to be asked to join the co-op." Specializing in household and art items of finely polished cherry, pine, oak and mahogany, Rivera keeps his booth stocked with multiple items, and when a one-of-a-kind item sells, he busies himself making another like item to replenish his inventory.
Co-op member Byrd Cornwell said Rivera's items are very appealing. "Of special appeal are the simple Shaker characteristics of many of his creations," Cornwell said.
Rivera is a Marine Corp veteran. He and his wife, Pat, live in the George Hildebrand community. When he is not creating wood crafts, Rivera enjoys fishing and gardening.