Ever since I was small, I have loved to create; crayons, potholders, embroidery, sewing, always sewing. When I was 12 years old, I began making my own clothes. In High School I was making clothing patterns and embroidering the clothes with my own designs. Drawing was also a hobby and if I can say I majored in anything in high school it would be Art. I loved drawing pencil portraits. I started College at first part time, and moved into full time to obtain my degree. I fell in love with Biology and Chemistry but kept up my Art in Art Studio classes and graduated in 1977.
In 1979 it was in Saginaw Michigan where I met my first cabinetmaker. My first husband and I helped a friend rebuild an old house and I was having fun learning new tools. I made my first set of cabinets that following spring in our van that we traveled in for a few months.
In June 1980 we settled in Bynum NC. Within a week I got a job in a cabinet shop. It was not classic training. It was “learn as you go”. The shop was putting out a kitchen a week for local developments that were booming around Chapel Hill. I was just about 99 pounds so developing more strength and applying the laws of Physics I learned in college came in handy. I loved it. I worked with some great guys. I worked there for almost 3 years. I left that cabinet shop in January 1983 a few weeks before my son’s birth.
I took my first woodworking class in Green Building Techniques the summer of 1982 with Wille Sundquist. He is a famous Swedish traditional woodworking craftsmen. The course was at Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops in Marshall, NC. Even then my spoons and sheath knife had curves and angles that were just off from the traditional.
After the birth of my son, I decided to work for myself doing small jobs. We added another room on our one room cabin and bought a radial arm saw, a small table saw, and a bunch of small hand tools. Within a few months I began working with Matrix Design at Rock Rest making Naus Haus cabinets. James Carnahan and Tom Naus Roberts knew each other from growing up. Tom had worked with the Peace Corp and was a building Contractor in Chatham County, and James was a trained Architect. James made cabinets differently than I was taught. He had a European and Modern slant to his design. They were common sense and sturdy, and he made his own knobs! I also learned about finishing from James. He only used Tung Oil from Sutherland Welles. Frank Welles was a Bynum neighbor, a crazy dark paint artist, who was known for his finish, his finishing, and his vocabulary. Sutherland Welles is now in Vermont. Thirty-seven years and I still prefer their products. Their present head of operations and lead finisher is a woman named Mary Goderwis.
When my son was two years old, we bought land in Bear Creek and rebuilt a cabin there. In 1986, James decided he was tired of doing kitchen cabinets and asked if I wanted to take over the Naus Haus jobs. Tom (Naus) Roberts helped my first husband and I build a shop, and I bought my Powermatic 66 table saw that I still use today. I used what I learned from the two cabinet shops I had worked in and Wood Moods was born in January 1987. I began doing everything required to run a cabinet shop: I got the dimensions for the space, met with the clients, drew up a design, modified around ideas and budget, ordered materials from various places, built the cabinets (including the drawers), finished them, installed them, and even did laminated and Butcher Block counter tops. I had a crew help with installation. In May 1988 I was featured in The Sanford Herald’s Central Carolina Woman. At that time, a woman cabinetmaker was unheard of.
I developed variations on the “Naus Haus” cabinet design. My “crazy knob” design appeared in the Chatham News and Record Home improvement section in April 1991 with Custom Cabinet Makers of Chatham. I continued to work with Naus Haus and other builders till 1992, when Naus retired back to New Mexico. Two of the builders that had worked with Naus continued the Naus Haus design, Mark Perry of Sundog Builders, and Miles Stone Building. And I continued making cabinets.
The main contractor I worked with was Sundog builders the next 11 years, with a few other contractors, private homeowners, and commissions. In 2004 my marriage ended, but I continued to use my shop. In 2005 I had spine surgery because of decreasing power in my right arm and hand. It was harder coming back from that than I thought it would be. Still that fall I moved my shop to a space in the county and continued making cabinets. The following spring, I moved my shop again into the basement of Cassedy and Fahrbach cabinet design. It was great having friends and fine cabinetmakers upstairs. I also had women apprentices come in and help me since my right arm was still compromised.
My kids have spent a lot of time around a mom doing woodwork and art, and their dad was a stone mason. I often did art projects in the schools and designed sets for plays. (James Carnahan got me into set design through the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.) My daughter was born in 1994. There is nothing more creative than being a working parent. Everything you interact with in life teaches you lessons. Learning how to be creative with children on the fly can spark so many other imaginings, it is just finding how to let those sparks fly.
My current husband and I moved back to Bynum in fall 2006. My business became Diane Swan Gallery in 2007. I continued working out of Cassedy and Fahrbach’s till 2011. A glass artist and friend of mine, Gretchen Niver, had an empty hangar on her land that she wanted to fill with woman artists. I moved my shop there in the summer of 2011. Welder, mosaic artist Janice Rieves and I have been shop mates ever since. The shop has become known as FatCat Art Gallery. Over the last 9 years I have evolved to doing more Wood Art than cabinets. My husband and I built a house just outside of Bynum with Sundog Builders in 2017-2018 and I did a lot woodwork details and installed cabinets and furniture of my design throughout the house.
At FatCat Art Gallery we usually have FatCat Artfest mid-year, and Chatham Artists Studio Tour in December. We have 10-12 artists displaying at FatCat, and anywhere from 3-5 artists for December’s Studio.
I hope you will come and visit our next studio show!