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"I think my early experience in the woods drove my ambition to build structures."
Dustin Regner

A Passion for Art

A self-employed carpenter endures the emotional, financial and physical hardship of his job to pursue his passion for art.

Dustin Regner prepares for work by pulling on his torn and patched Levi’s, a gray sweatshirt, and a green vest that hugs his thin figure. He throws on a winter hat to battle the cold, and puts on a pair of work gloves to protect his battered hands.

A typical day for Regner, a 30-year-old, self-employed carpenter, starts at 8 a.m. with a hot cup of coffee and a banana at Kind Coffee, his friend’s cafe. It will end with him working late into the night on his real passion: art.

“I’m up till 2 a.m. working on art projects and I still have to begin my days early. There’s no time for a morning meal,” said Regner.

After his morning coffee, Regner arrives at the Gear Factory, a five-story gray concrete building with overgrown weeds, graffiti and broken windows. The warehouse was developed as a workspace for artists in the Near Westside of Syracuse.

Here, Regner rents an art studio/workshop and stores his carpentry tools for his business, Dugo Works Construction. He loads up his handcart and rolls it into to the loading dock, where he transfers the day’s construction materials into his beat-up green Jeep Cherokee.

The son of a farmer from Oneida, Regner grew up on more than 1,000 acres of land, where he was encouraged to explore the surrounding woodland, and spent his free time building forts when he wasn't helping out at the farm.

“I think my early experience in the woods drove my ambition to build structures. It was playful,” said Regner. “My father also did everything himself and most of the time I helped, so I learned a lot from him. I have always loved the beauty that wood displays. It being the most versatile product out there, working with wood just came naturally.”

Regner left his hometown when he was 19 and traveled to northern Colorado. He spent some time studying forestry and the arts, but he wanted to see the country and experience life on his own.

“I needed the wilderness and the freedom,” he said. In Colorado, Regner started working as a carpenter. That provided him the income and time to make a living and support his artistic passions.

Now, a day of carpentry means leaving the Gear Factory and driving to the latest project. These days he is remodeling a 1870s two-story Victorian on the Near Westside. At the house, Regner uses his skills as a carpenter installing doors. He works alone in an empty building with torn walls, where his only company is a radio playing folk music.

Regner chooses to be self-employed so he can have the flexibility to work on his art projects and pursue his passion for art. Regner knows what hard work and determination are, and how heavily his success depends on the integrity of his hands and body.

Regner works day and night and takes risks for small amounts of money. He earns about $2,000 monthly, which isn’t enough for him to afford health insurance. He knows the danger of getting injured by a careless accident such as cutting himself with his electric saw could be catastrophic for him and his art. The situation is not ideal, but for now, it’s the reality. For Regner, it's a risk he is willing to take for his art.