Captain Tom Driftwood Designs Creates Beauty From Nature

Aug 08, 2018

Locals of Long Beach Island distinctly remember the devastation and heartache that accompanied Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012. Thomas Polise, 61, of Harvey Cedars witnessed the destruction firsthand – specifically along the beaches, which were strewn with driftwood and debris. “Inspired by the beauty of each piece of wood,” Polise resolved to collect and up-cycle the rubbish into works of art. Thus began Captain Tom Driftwood Designs, art aimed at uncovering the Island’s hidden beauty.

Polise and his wife, Helen, have owned a vacation home on the Island since 1988, first in Surf City for 25 years, then in Harvey Cedars, where they relocated in 2013. Since moving to Harvey Cedars, they have spent weekends in the winter on the Island, a peaceful reprieve from a more hectic life in New York City where they work and reside part time. Helen Polise has taken over the role of communications director for Captain Tom’s Driftwood, managing the business’ website, social media and photography style blog. This position is not far off from her professional work as a television commercial/video director and owner of the New York-based production company “Muthership.” Not to be left out of the family side business, the Polises’ graphic designer daughter developed Captain Tom’s logo.

By trade, Tom Polise is a licensed professional mechanical engineer. Working with design architects his entire career has provided him with a “unique understanding of architecture and an appreciation for interior design” as well as “hands-on experience in building and construction.”

“All this experience” Polise said, “has culminated into this new phase of designing, artwork, furniture items and sculptures using artifacts from the beach.” Additionally, after 30 years of sailing throughout Barnegat Bay, Polise qualified to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license. This license allows him to charter boats anywhere in the world; as a merchant marine, Polise has chartered boats in the Caribbean and Tahiti with upcoming plans to sail throughout Greece. When he’s not in his home studio creating, Polise can be found sailing, or swimming in the bay. His clear attachment to the water shines through his art.

Polise’s work primarily focuses on repurposing materials found on the beach into images reminiscent of the Island. For example, a bundle of driftwood becomes an American flag while a collection of shells comes together to create a sailboat. No two pieces are alike, each evolving in their own way as Polise works through the materials, taking “often overlooked” materials such as shells, then, as he said, “envisioning what it might become and then creating the work.”

Feedback for his work has been overwhelmingly positive. Jazz and blues vocalist Sara Phelan, known locally for her work on the LBI Foundation jazz summer concert series, anxiously awaited Captain Tom’s exhibit at the LBIF alongside her husband, Michael. Originally drawn to Polise’s pieces because of the manner in which “each tells a story beyond the fact it is driftwood,” the Phelans noted that “in each piece there is a life that truly speaks.” The couple picked up Polise’s piece “Movement,” which reminded Phelan of “the improvisational side of jazz.”

Randi and Dave Heiden, also of Harvey Cedars, were first introduced to Polise’s work last summer and continue to be fans.

Polise’s work can primarily be found at local art festivals and at The Red Chair in Harvey Cedars, as well as through his website. Custom orders for larger works, gates, sculptures and furniture can be made. A pop-up shop will take place this Saturday, Aug. 11, at Firefly in Surf City from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For additional information, Captain Tom Driftwood Designs can be found on Instagram @captaintvp or online at

— Morgan Turner

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