From the shores of the Ohio River to the sandy beaches of Hunting Island, South Carolina, driftwood finds new life inside the third-story workspace of Debbie Krugman Goldman’s Riverside Historic District home. There, she burns intricate patterns onto the smooth, twisted wood, refurbishing an otherwise discarded object.
Goldman began collecting long, dark planks of driftwood commonly found by the Ohio River after retiring in 2019 from her almost 40-year career as a Tri-State pediatrician. Soon after, during one of her frequent vacations to South Carolina, she discovered the area’s live oak driftwood, a more suitable canvas as each piece has a unique shape.
After retirement, Goldman — who says she had always been the friend who worked — was left searching for a hobby. A lifelong art lover and collector with her husband Bob, Goldman took inspiration from her late friend Neil Cobb, a retired sales executive at Anchor Industries who burned, painted, and embellished tobacco sticks he called snake sticks.
The wood-burned pieces now find homes with Goldman’s friends and family as gifts, or around her own home pieced together in puzzle-like stacks or perched on metal frames and stands made by her friend Jim Keck.
“It’s very relaxing; the time you put into it is mentally very nice,” says Goldman. “It’s good for your health to have something you lose yourself in. It’s not the finishing that’s fun, it’s the process.”
Goldman, who also does gourd-burning, has developed many new patterns over time. Circles, dots, swirls, and even eyes make up visually appealing designs on the driftwood, which she cleans before using.
“To me, they look like things. I have a lot that look like octopi because of the circle element,” says Goldman. “When I put the patterns on them, they have this natural way — I follow the grain of the wood. A lot of it is the wood; if you don’t have a pretty piece of driftwood, it’s not going to turn out. It’s boring.”
While she says art shows could possibly be in her future, Goldman has yet to sell any of her work or feature it in a gallery.
“I have people that have asked to buy it. I just haven’t done that yet,” she says. “I do this for myself, and when other people admire it, (I) think, ‘Oh, they’re just being nice.’”