John DiNaro creates intricate wood sculptures inside a backyard shed in Brookhaven hamlet.
The 65-year-old Bellport native has been woodworking for 26 years.
But his career path started out in oceanography. It was a short stint. DiNaro spent two years working as an oceanographer in California, then made his way back to Long Island to pursue an art career.
“My guidance counselor told me if I was going to go into the arts, I was going to starve in the streets,” DiNaro joked.
He proved his guidance counselor wrong and has made a career out of creating art. While he prefers working with wood, DiNaro’s body of work also includes functional furniture and murals. His nautical-themed murals can be found inside local buildings in Bellport like the Village Bistro and HSBC Bank and outside of Monti’s Auto Works on Station Road.
“We need to bring art into the communities,” DiNaro said. “If you bring the arts into your town, the people will come.”
The Bellport High School graduate also teaches art programs to students in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. He works with students teaching them how to turn benches, lighting and fences into art forms and helps them create murals in their schools.
“What I essentially do is teach courses in creativity and art is my tool,” he said.
Talia Mochi-Cliffe teaches the art, design and visual communications class at the Brookhaven Technical Center and has known DiNaro for 12 years. She’s brought DiNaro in as a motivational speaker and as an instructor.
“He is very realistic, very down to earth and tells them as it is,” she said. “He absolutely reinforces that you have to work for things in life and nothing gets handed to you. He reinforces manners and that people will want to give anyone the chance if they have good manners.“
After DiNaro visits with one of her classes, the students are motivated.
“They suddenly think anything is possible. They look back at what they had created in three days from concept, development and construction," she said. "It is kind of like a shot in the arm of energy when he comes in. ... He’s an inspiration with the art kids.”
DiNaro has no plans of retiring any time soon. In fact, he’s looking for larger space to create his work -- particularly a barn with electricity anywhere from Mastic to Sayville.
“I do a lot of monumental sculptures. They are fairly large. I need space,” he said. “I need a place to put a big band saw, hand tools and grinders. I have outgrown my space. I need a lot more space.”
And when he's not teaching students or creating his own art, DiNaro has been trying to start an apprenticeship school for young artists to learn hands-on how to become successful artists.
“I have the players. I just need the funding,” DiNaro said. “You have to go for your passion. If your job doesn’t exist, then create it.”