For Scituate’s Jenna Sammartino, the ocean is many things.
It’s where she spent her time as a teenager growing up on the South Shore, it’s where her best memories were made with her husband and two kids, and it’s where she draws her artistic inspiration for Driftway Designs, a small business though which she makes and sells home goods large and small using wood, resin and acrylic paint.
“The ocean has always been a part of me,” Sammartino said. “It’s different every time you look at it. It’s so soothing. Even during a storm, it calms me.”
It’s only been a year since Sammartino fell in love with the sometimes-frustrating-but-always-interesting medium of resin art. She said she makes it a goal to give her husband a handmade gift every Christmas, and was inspired by resin art she saw at a craft fair.
She made her husband a massive wall hanging, and made several smaller pieces for practice and fun. She gave those gifts to family and friends last Christmas, who encouraged her to dive in head first.
Combining her artistic inspiration with her love of the ocean is how she ended up where she is now — selling a unique line of cutting boards, serving platters, jewelry boxes, coasters and other home goods that are layered in blue, green and white resin, made to look like crashing waves.
She mixes acrylic paint and resin to come up with custom colors, pours it over various types of wood and uses a heat gun to spread the resin, creating the look of each wave. Then, she uses a small blow torch to remove unsightly bubbles, cures the piece for 24 hours and does it all over again. With extra materials, she makes mermaid tales and shells for key chains and Christmas ornaments.
She keeps a stock of commonly-requested items, but also takes customer orders where shoppers can choose what item they want, the type of wood, stain, size, color and even hardware — using boat cleats as serving-platter handles is a popular one.
She has it all down to a science now, but Sammartino says that wasn’t always the case.
“It was overwhelming, I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I didn’t know what kind of resin to buy, what kind of paint to buy, what kind of environment I needed to be in. It took me a long time to figure it all out.”
Before her two kids were born, Sammartino was a full-time nurse at Beth Israel in Boston. Now, she works at the hospital part time and nourishes Driftway Designs when she can find the time — usually at night, after her kids have gone to bed. On average, she bets she spends 20 to 30 hours per week in her basement studio.
“I have my job, my family, my kids, the beach, so my life is very full, but this has fulfilled me in a personal way. It makes me better,” she said. “It makes me a better mom and a better wife when I’m able to have something for myself.”
Her love of the craft blossomed this spring and summer, she said, when she was either quarantining at home with her family or working in the hospital amid a global pandemic.
“It was a great outlet for me. I worked through the pandemic, it was by far the scariest time in my career,” Sammartino said. “I would drive around town and see the red hearts to support healthcare workers and start to cry. I didn’t want to be working in a pandemic, but there’s a time when you have to put your big girl pants on and deal with it. It was huge for me to have (Driftway Designs) to come home to.”
A lot of Sammartino’s buyers are local or buy from the shop Board 143 in Scituate, she said, but she’s shipped to customers all over the country. When she first started her business, she’d sell between 10 and 12 pieces per month. Now, shelves in her basement are filled with custom orders and she closed her Christmas commissions on Nov. 1 — after selling 75 pieces in a matter of weeks.
“I didn’t have any expectations, I just enjoyed it,” she said. “The feedback I got from family and friends who loved it made me think other people would love it. I just want to share my love of the ocean, and it’s rewarding for me.”
Sammartino says her passion for the sea is a common one, even for those who don’t live on the coast like she does. For her, it’s that mutual love and respect of the ocean that makes her products such a hit.
“Most people have good memories when they think of the beach,” she said. “It’s either a vacation or a walk after dinner or the last time everyone was all together. It takes people back to that time.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.