Whimsical driftwood figures tell a story of loss and healing  


By Katrina Doell Mullaney

This is a story about family, about grief and about how loss turns into joy. It’s a story about how thanksgiving for a life leads to  healing.  

Late in the summer people walking the riverfront trail that connects to Charles Point noticed  exquisite driftwood figures along the beach and began wondering out loud on social media about them.  “Who is making these?” “What’s the story behind these?” “How did anyone even get down on the beach to make them?”

In the foreground is the figure of the fisherman. In the middle is the sunbather and guitar player. At the top of image is the angel. Photo by Regina Clarkin


Groups of people stopped on their walks and runs to admire the work. Hanging from the railing was a small description of what was on the beach. 

The story of the Fisherman that Karas attached to the railing of the riverwalk. Photo by Alex Richards

Cathi Karas, the artist who sculpted the figures, shares an emotional story of love and how her work with the figures has brought healing.  She is truly humbled and appreciative of the attention they have been receiving.  

Her first creation was made in memory of her son, Christopher, who passed away suddenly three years ago at the age of 27. Karas said she wanted  to find a way to connect with him for his 30th birthday. “I thought, ‘I can’t stay in and cry all day,’ and I decided to make a fisherman for him,” Karas said. “When the sculpture was complete, I found my sadness turning to joy of happier times,” she wrote on the sheet of paper describing the figures. 

Cathi Karas besides the figure she sculpted representing her son Chris. Photo by Katrina Doell Mullaney

The sculpture features his fishing hat, an important detail. He was an avid fisherman, growing up along the Hudson River, which Karas said was such an important place for her childhood and that of her children. “He can see it from heaven,” said Karas. With a laugh she added,  “I’m sure he’s laughing telling me to take up knitting. It’s much less hazardous than sculpting on such a large scale in hard-to-reach places,” she said with a smile. 

In working through her grief, Karas has been connecting with other parents who have lost children as a participant in a grieving support group.  She began to feel a need to represent those children too. So she created other sculptures. “Every smile that they bring to people, it brings the children lost back to life,” related Karas. 

This is the sunbather Karas created for another mother who lost her daughter. Photo by Katrina Doell Mullaney

She met a woman who shared the story of her son who was a musician and just 21 years old when he passed away. He’s represented by the figure of a boy with a guitar. Another statue depicts a girl sunning herself. It was inspired by a mother who shared the story of her daughter’s death. 

The guitar player, created by Karas. Photo by Katrina Doell Mullaney

Karas has also crafted beautiful birds – one an egret and another of a hawk, the latter being the only piece that was not created down on the beach. The hawk was a special piece Karas had at her home with a prayer card from Christopher’s wake. 


Karas created this angel, perched on a log,  to keep watch over the children. Photo by Katrina Doell Mullaney

When you meet Karas, 62, you are struck by her warmth and sincerity. Talk with her for a few minutes about her artwork, and then you will be struck by her love of the Hudson River, its beaches in this area, and her deep connection to nature. She easily rattles off the names of tiny coves and little trails that only a native would know. And she loves and cares for them by collecting glass and driftwood – and picking up garbage – along the beaches of Verplanck, Buchanan, and Peekskill. She began using the driftwood as source material for her crafts which she’s been creating for the last decade. Her gift is not just of her artwork, but it’s to nature and the environment. 

Every year on her birthday her two adult daughters accompany her to pick up garbage strewn along the beaches. It’s their way of sharing in their mom’s passion. She estimates she’s taken over 100 bags of trash away.  

While she’s had success selling her work, it’s the recent creations of the statues on the beach that has captured the attention of visitors to the riverwalk section of the trail south of the Yacht Club  in Peekskill.

This hawk Karas created at her home. Photo by Katrina Doell Mullaney

On a recent walk down to the tiny beach where her creations reside, a group of walkers noticed Karas and her Siberian Husky, Niko, and this reporter. They were excited to have encountered the artist, thanked her profusely and asked about the origin of the sculptures. 

“My heart was just exploding,” Karas said. “Looking at my son, I think of how the other people who lost children might feel.”

Interested in seeing more of Cathi’s work? Check out https://kandtrivercrafts.square.site/


Katrina Doell Mullaney is an avid runner and storyteller who creates Peekskill Herald’s digital media presence. She studied journalism at St. John’s University.  This is the type of reporting and writing that Peekskill Herald excels at – sharing the lives of the people who live here in well written features. Support this form of community journalism this month and next where every dollar donated is doubled. Here is where you can become a member.