PHILLIPS — When Sandra Caton eyes a piece of gnarled driftwood, she sometimes sees the potential for making the natural bumps and grain lines into a colorful Father Christmas.

For the past 23 years, Caton and her husband, Tom, have searched local lakes for the wood.

“It’s what my eye sees,” she said of the pieces that develop their own personality under her paintbrush. “They are all one of a kind.”

After years of selling her driftwood Santas at artisan shows, Caton opened a small shop, Native Maine Driftwood Santas, in August at her home at 32 River Road, also known as Route 149 East.

A grand opening is planned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

It will be open from July to Christmas from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment, she said. There are Santas of all sizes, crafts and supplies.

Caton tried other crafts, including painting on wood pieces cut out by her husband. She trained herself to paint before the driftwood pieces became her specialty.

She’s done shows for years and decided it was time to open her own small shop. It started when her husband, a Congregational United Church of Christ minister who served for 20 years in northern Maine, brought home a flat piece of driftwood from a local lake intending to give it to a friend who paints, she said.

One look at the natural grain lines and she saw the outline of Father Christmas and decided to paint it. It was her first piece and she has never sold it.

The pieces are no longer flat. The natural features of the wood become Santa’s shoulders, his bag and even his nose on one.

The couple regularly canoe around northern and western Maine lakes looking for pieces. The pieces are washed, dried, painted and antiqued to give it an Old World look, she said. 

Sometimes the pieces are made to represent angels, a moose or snake. But mostly they are Santas, a basic design she has copyrighted.

Tom helps with the decorating, creating staffs for the Santa shepherds, and driftwood or pine bases as stands. The sizes vary from small magnets and tree ornaments to figures 6 feet tall.

While she eyes what pieces might develop into a Santa, she said, “I don’t know what it will be like until it’s done. Each one becomes a unique piece.”

Finding a piece in Grand Lake, Tom thought she should leave it but she kept it. It had a flowing look that made her think of something windblown, she said. Holding the piece that became a Santa with a windswept robe, she said Tom didn’t recognize it and thought the finished product was an excellent piece.

The couple came to Maine from Massachusetts when Tom entered Bangor Theological Seminary. He served in Maine churches before leading a church in Idaho. He missed the smaller church and came back to Aroostook County.

When he retired they wanted to be closer to their daughters and purchased the home in Phillips in 2003. They joined St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Farmington. 

This summer they sold vegetables and homemade sweets at the Phillips Farmers Market.

“We keep busy around home even though we’re supposed to be retired,” she said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: