By John Lauritsen

MINNESOTA (WCCO) — While going for a walk on the beach, you might see a piece of driftwood and kick it off to the side. But a Moose Lake woman sees that same piece of wood as potential.

The paintings in Jennifer Szczyrbak’s studio give you a taste of the outdoors. But her sculptures give you the real thing.

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“My true love is sculpting,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said. “We didn’t have a TV for a long time growing up. We lived out in the country. I just was able to explore. And a lot of time to use my imagination.”

It’s her imagination that changed her life. About 15 years ago Jennifer Szczyrbak and her husband Kevin Szczyrbak were on a date away from the kids, walking along Wisconsin Point. While waiting for him to come back from an errand, she literally stumbled upon a piece of wood that looked like a moose.

“I put together this little moose in the sand. Kevin came back and he’s my biggest fan. He was blown away by it. I thought it was just kind of funny,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said.

She hung the moose up in her studio. And, among all her Vang-Goh-ish paintings, it was that driftwood art that visitors drifted towards.

“I was super excited because I had found my sculpture again,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said.

Since then, she’s made about 180 driftwood pieces. With the exception of a 9-foot long alligator, most of her animals can be found in Minnesota. Bears, ducks, eagles – whatever Lake Superior is willing to give up.

When Szczyrbak starts a piece, her hands and eyes never stop moving.

“I do a lot of playing around and I don’t settle on how it’s going to look,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said while working. “The back is arched so I found this nice arch piece and then these pieces I thought look tail-like.”

It’s like putting a puzzle together and Mother Nature has provided the pieces. Before long, an animal begins to take shape.

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“I’m just going to work from the neck down toward the body. This is going to be a running wolf,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said.

A variety of glues and screws will hold the wolf together. It can take hundreds of pieces to give life to this type of art. Thankfully, Kevin Szczyrbak is always good for a stroll on the beach.

“We’ll go on dates still, for driftwood,” Kevin Szczyrbak said.

Even if he still isn’t quite sure what he’s looking for.

“I’ll hold up a piece of driftwood and she’ll shake her head. And I think I just knocked it out. And she’ll be like, I can’t work with that piece Kevin. And I’m just like- I don’t have an eye for it,” Kevin Szczyrbak said with a chuckle.

But Jennifer Szczyrbak says he’s helped plenty. Driftwood with knots in it is invaluable because the knots serve as eyes.

Once the pieces are in place, the possibilities are endless.

“My life has opened up a door for me and I’m super thankful that I can create,” Jennifer Szczyrbak said.

Jennifer’s art has ended up in galleries, homes and restaurants around the country.

For more information on her driftwood art and how she creates it, click here.

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John Lauritsen