Homebuilder finds a new sense of purpose in wood sculpture

After forging a successful Bay Area construction career with high-end residential clients, Jeremy Ruys realized one day that he felt empty inside.

“I was spending my time helping other people build their dreams, but I wasn’t working on my own,” he recalls.

He decided to search for a renewed sense of purpose. “I didn’t know yet what my dream might be. I just knew I needed some solitude to figure it out.”

Ruys moved to Washington state and took a forestry job removing dead trees and thinning out overly dense areas to prevent forest fires.

“I was able to work alone and build my own log cabin to live in. I literally became one with the trees. … It was a spiritual experience,” he says. “I learned how trees can actually support each other by sharing nutrients.
“My time working in the woods helped me better understand the creative synergy that exists between all living things,” he adds. “I saw artistry in the fallen trees, ways to sculpt the wood into something new that tells a story.”

An injury eventually brought Ruys’ forestry work to a close, but he had found his purpose – to capture this concept of creative synergy for others to experience. Armed with a chainsaw and his expertise as a builder, he started carving wood sculptures. He met a woman who loved his work and he moved to where she lived in Concord to build a relationship.

Homebuilder finds a new sense of purpose in wood sculpture
Jeremy Ruys crafted tables out of burned trees from ­Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County.

After coming back to the Bay Area, Ruys met an artist who encouraged him to take a more abstract, emotional approach to his carving.

“It was challenging,” he says. “When you’re building multi-million dollar homes, you have to be a perfectionist. I had to learn how to embrace the wood’s imperfections and become a ‘figure hunter.’ Sometimes I carve new shapes and lines, but other times the wood’s natural figure alone is the art.”

After meeting the owner of Paradise Ridge Winery, which was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire, Ruys had the opportunity to repurpose some of the winery’s burned trees. He used the wood to build a series of artistic tables.

“There was so much devastation from that fire,” he notes. “These trees told the sad story with their jagged edges and dark shadows. It’s like that with people. Our most trying times leave a deep impact and can often define who we become. But beauty can still be born out of tragedy.”

When his girlfriend encouraged him to show his work to a gallery, Ruys did some research. “I went to see Fro at the aRt Cottage in Concord. I was thrilled that she wanted to include my tables in her May show.”

Ruys plans to stay in Concord for awhile. “For the first time, I’m meeting other artists and I feel accepted as an artist myself. I’m really excited to get more involved in the arts here,” he says. “I think Concord still has a story to tell.”

The aRt Cottage is at 2238 Mt. Diablo St., Concord. Visit artscottage.blogspot.com.

You can learn more at ­iheartartstudio.co. Lisa Fulmer is a mixed media artist, small business marketing consultant and community arts advocate.