Long-lasting gift: Craftsman finds bench work satisfying, emotional

COMMEMORATING FAMILY AND COMMUNITY — Amid the summertime crowds on the Causeway, wood craftsman Rob Brand sits on the bench he purchased and dedicated to the memory of his mother and father. (Photo courtesy of Rob Brand)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Woodwork craftsman Rob Brand was commissioned to create the benches that will adorn the Causeway through the seasons.

Also, the benches — many dedicated to people who have passed away, will help raise money to pay off the town’s cost for the Bay of Naples Bridge construction project and the simultaneously improved Causeway. Brand said visiting the bench he purchased and dedicated to his parents was an emotional, yet satisfying, experience.

“Having put my own bench out there, and having sat on it and gazed at the lake, it is very moving to think that the bench will be there as a legacy for many years to come,” Brand said on Tuesday morning.

Rather than inscribing a saying on the plaque for the bench, Brand put a picture of a frog — an animal that was meaningful to his mother, and a cardinal to represent his dad.

The local businessman said it was a privilege to have his bench design selected by the Causeway Restoration Committee and the Naples Board of Selectmen.

ROWS OF BENCHES HEADED FOR CAUSEWAY — The first 10 wooden benches sit in the workshop of Sebago Furniture. The African mahogany benches were sold to individuals and businesses as a fundraiser to help with the town’s cost for the Bay of Naples Bridge and Causeway construction project. (Photo courtesy of Rob Brand)

“It honors me, and it honors the people for whom I am building the benches,” he said.

“What better gift to a craft person: That you make something— it is not quite immortal — but, a long-lasting gift to somebody,” Brand said.

More than a dozen of the 20 benches he has already crafted have been placed in the green space of the Causeway. This spring, Brand plans to complete nine more benches. By summer, those remaining benches will begin to take residence on the Causeway.

Lately, some community members have questioned whether or not the benches would be removed from the Causeway during the winter months. After all, most individuals store patio and lawn furniture when summer takes its final curtsey. According to CRC Chairman Bob Neault, the benches “are designed to weather, and the idea is to leave them in place.”

Brand explained that the benches are constructed from African mahogany — a dense, heavy wood that rates well for being weather tolerant.

“The benches themselves will last 50 years easily,” he said.

“African mahogany was used on ships for decking. It has been used for decking on homes,” he said.

“I used time-honored mortise and tenon joinery,” he said, explaining the joinery technique used to assemble the pieces.

While these wooden benches have proven to be weather-tolerant, the lettering on some of the plaques has not been.

“We will have to re-do the plaques,” he said.

“The engraving is great. But, the weather — between the sun and exposure from wind on the lake — is fading the lettering very rapidly.”

He said he has been in contact with the vendor of the product, and hopes to find a solution by using a different product or a different technique.

He said he was considering “a material that is inlaid with UV-tolerant paint or a non-wood material that will last forever.”

After all, those people who have benches dedicated to loved ones want that commemoration to endure through time.

Brand received an e-mail from Sandy Warren who, along with her siblings, purchased a bench for her parents, Richard and Barbara Ann Pierro.

“This is all such a blessing to my mother. She has terminal cancer. My dad passed a few years ago. They summered on Long Lake since 1967. Now, we are summering still with the fourth generation,” Warren wrote.

“So, this is the perfect gift for her, and has given her comfort at this difficult time,” she said.

The bench is among those facing Long Lake. The engraving is clear as a bell.

CRC Chairman Neault said he is looking forward to this spring’s resolution to improve the longevity of the plaques, especially since some had not fared well after only one summer.

He commented on not only the aesthetics of the benches, but the practicality of providing people with places to sit down and extend their stay on the Causeway.

“I’ve paid attention to how these benches are being utilized, and they seem to be a welcome addition to the Causeway,” Neault said.

The boardwalk and benches are not simply summertime tourist attractions, he said.

“We are seeing, with the new lighting up and working on both sides off the Causeway, that people are walking no matter what the weather,” he said.

“People will feel more inclined to walk those areas now that the street lamps are lit,” Neault said.

The wooden benches are $1,500 each, and can be ordered through the Naples Town Office. A slightly higher fee will be added for plaques with more than three lines of writing.


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