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A.L. Swanson Gallery

Helena, MT





Describe your first experience with woodworking.  

I grew up in a small farming community on the coast of Maine, and my father had a decent wood shop in the barn. I would, on occasion, sneak in and use the tools to make picture frames and cutting boards as gifts. I had no training up to that point and am quite lucky I still have all of my digits...


How have you overcome the challenge of working in a rural area?  

Working in a rural area certainly has its challenges, but it also has its share of benefits. I have lived in Helena, Montana now for 11 years and though it is a small city (50k), our new studio / gallery sits in the very heart of it. That being said, the exposure we have to city residents and plenty of tourists alike is a major asset. However, to truly be successful in this business, there cannot be any barriers between product and client. Savvy marketing techniques, a web presence and super high quality work allows you to put up shop anywhere - I have a beautiful view of the northern Rockies out my window...


What is your training?

Living in New England for 30 years allowed me to be exposed to some of the finest cabinetmakers in the business. As I developed my talent, I was quite fortunate to have been mentored by some of these very folks - further learning the baseline fundamentals of building heirloom pieces. Of course I learned much on my own as well. When one is truly passionate about something, they will seek all means to master what it is they wish to do - I was no different.



Where do you get your designs?  

I was exposed to the Shakers and their works at an early age. Their aesthetic played a large role in my direction. I loved the simple forms, clean lines and complex joinery - this is evident in much of the work we make today. I have a solid understanding of lumber and how it needs to be worked. I will often let the grain; color and size of a particular board guide ultimately guide me to a particular design - especially some of the amazing quilted maple I procure from Northwest Timber. Though this material speaks for itself, coupled with a unique design and solid construction, it will be touched and enjoyed by someone for many years to come.


Who/what has been the biggest influence on your work?  

Though there have been and still are many influential woodworkers out there, I don't feel especially influenced by any one person. Rather, my largest influence is all of the people that collect our furniture - especially the looks on their faces when they receive a piece that I poured much of me in to. I must say though, that working alongside Gary Rogowski in my Helena studio last summer, was truly a joy...


What has been your biggest asset for your woodworking career?  

I feel that it takes many assets to keep a company alive - especially during these unique economic times. You need to stay limber and be willing to change along with your market. We have done just that. I work very well with those willing to invest in our pieces. Being sharp and charismatic can go a long way, but building furniture of uncompromising quality ourselves and teaching others to do the same is our strongest element.  Merely bringing your product to the people isn't strong enough anymore. But, bringing those people to your process is key. We recently built a new gallery for our work that is separated by three large sound-proof glass panels, that looks directly into our studio.  We can now engage people like never before - their commission is being created right in front of them. However, many are opting to join us in the shop to create a piece of their very own. With our expert guidance, this has proven to be quite successful and extremely rewarding to all...


quilted sideboard

quilted bed

maple table


Quilted Maple supplied by WWW.NWTIMBER.NET


Northwest Timber
1.800.238.8036 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            1.800.238.8036      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
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Slideshow of A.L. Swanson's work