TAUNTON — Joe Resendes works hard. The Azorean immigrant arrived in Taunton at 13 and left school at 16 to support his family, working long hours in factories, at construction sites, in chemical plants.
Today, at 60, he runs his own landscaping business.
To relax, he sits under a tree in his Taunton yard and he carves. He carves whimsical creatures out of peach pits, clay, and stone.
“When I carve, I’m not looking at a clock. I’m not working. I do it for fun,” said Resendes, still with a thick accent. “It’s my stress relief.”
Over the last 40 years, Resendes estimates he’s carved some 2,600 peach pits.
“I eat a lot of peaches,” he said.
Resendes grew up on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal comprising nine islands in the North Atlantic. He was 7 when he got a jackknife for Christmas, and started carving.
“I came from a very poor place. We would make our own toys,” said Resendes. His family emigrated to the United States in 1968.“We moved for food and clothing. We had no clothing, really,” he said.
Despite growing up in poverty, he has never wanted to sell any of his sculptures. In fact, except for one student-run art show a decade ago, almost no one besides his wife, Elizabeth, and four children had seen the sculptures.
For years, Resendes kept — and still keeps — thousands of his carvings all over his home, even stuffed into suitcases and boxes.
Then, around 2011, he did some landscaping work for Diane DeMelo of Taunton, a part-time photographer.
“He mentioned that he sculpted; I was intrigued. But when he showed me his work, I was bowled over,” said DeMelo. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a sense of wonderment. His creations together are like a cast of characters in a play.”
DeMelo photographed some of Resendes’s works, and arranged for his current exhibit at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River: “The Sculpture and Photographs of Sedneser Seeds” — “Resendes” spelled backwards — a selection of his carvings and DeMelo’s photographs of his work. It runs through Oct. 18 at the nonprofit center that hosts performing and visual artists.
While Resendes carved his own toys as a boy, he didn’t carve peach pit faces until the mid-1970s.
“One day I said to myself, let me see if I can carve a face. And I just kept going with it. It evolved to more than a hobby — it was an addiction. I carved and carved and kept on carving,” he said.
“I love faces. I love expressions. You look at a stone, you can sometimes see a face before you start. With a pit, I never know what I’m going to get until I start,” he said. “Stones take me months on and off. A peach pit takes me an hour or so.”
Carving the pits can be dangerous, though.
“I use a box cutter, which are very sharp and tend to slip, so you can cut yourself pretty bad. I’ve cut myself plenty of times. The whole blade has gone into my finger,” he said. “But that’s the price you pay.”
Resendes considers it all worthwhile.
“If the carvings can take people away from their pains and stresses, even just for a little while, that’s a good thing,” he said. “That’s all I’m looking for.”
NARROWS CENTER FOR THE ARTS 16 Anawan St., Fall River. 508-324-1926, www.narrowscenter.org. Wed-Sat noon-5 p.m. Admission free; on concert nights ticket holders are welcome to view artwork.
Lauren Daley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.