When and why did you start your career in woodworking?
wasn't planned. I actually studied Fine Art at San Francisco State
University, Painting Drawing and Sculpture. But in my first year of
college I was at a junior College in the Bay Area and they had a
beautiful wood shop. I was young and very interested in learning
everything, still am I guess. But no one knew anything about woodworking
they just had this big shop with no teachers or classes. I asked what
was up, I wanted to learn - they handed me the key and said don't hurt
yourself. First thing I did was hurt myself after turning on the table
saw...kickback, it hurt! But I guess I wasn't to be deterred, I went
right back at it (the teachers just said be careful and let me back in
there...times were different then). Mainly I just scrunched things
together, never heard of the word 'joinery', except with the Hari
Krishna's. There were no books, no Fine Woodworking Magazine, no
we call what I was doing DIY, then we called it macramé - I even
sheared sheep, carded, spun my own wool, and made my own hand spindle
and weaving looms (I learned from some Navajos on the reservation in
Utah). This was 1970. Ever hear of the first Renaissance Faire in Marin
County? Beaulines (Bolinas) Art Guild?
moving to SF State I was given a unique opportunity. They had an
Industrial Arts program, but that was for weird geeky guys with short
hair and khaki pants, which played with electronic glue guns you, had to
keep away from your mid section if you wanted to have kids one day. I
was an art student, combat boots and Goodwill shirts two sizes too
small, and some thought I should get a haircut - we were very different
animals. We both were both smug and cocky with our knowledge of life and
how it should work, I mean these were the times when some of us were
battling S.I. Hayakawa, and listening to Angela Davis...you might get
the idea. But then the ID dept head asked a guy named Arthur Espenet
Carpenter to come over and teach a class that was a combination of 6 ID
students and 6 Art students - stick it in the blender and see what comes
out. The first couple of days we all just circled around each other,
pretending like those other guys weren't actually there. I have to say
the ID students really did know their stuff in the shop; it was run like
a barracks, shit, they knew what a drill press was! But they didn't
have a clue how to create something. We on the other hand were full of
airy fairy ideas, but not a clue how to build it.
had a blast - Carpenter was great, he made them be creative, he made me
make sure it stayed together. Everyone produced amazing stuff and we
all had a great time together - many of the ID students went on to
become very well known woodworkers in Northern California. Art
Carpenter was a very influential woodworker who started the Bolinas
Guild, sad to say he is no longer with us. Between him and Sam Maloof we
California woodworkers made some beautiful and interesting stuff
through the 70's. Art continued for many years to be a resource for me
when things occasionally fell apart and I couldn't figure out why. Sam
was also an inspiration as well while I was learning in those early
years; they both were fresh and new in those days when 'plastic'
am the only one of the art students who carried on, I think anyway, but
then it was only for fun. My true love was painting and sculpture. It
wasn't until 1978 or so that I started seriously buying equipment and
making furniture for a living, I wasn't selling my paintings, people
bought my furniture - I think I made $1.50 an hour!. But my furniture
designs were less function, more sculptural even then. That was always
my interest in woodworking - as sculpture. I moved to Oregon in 1977.
What would be your advice to someone wanting a career in studio furniture?
Don't. Do it for fun, get a real job.
How much are your clients involved in the design and wood choice in your work?
varies. In the early years here in Oregon I worked with designers and
architects, so was primarily doing copies of their desired pieces. It
was good experience but very difficult because they always wanted cheap
and perfect. Their designs were merely trend based and the most I got
out of it was experience, which was very important actually. I did a lot
of cabinetry to keep the money coming in, it was all a rat race with
extreme time pressures and little money because I was always competing
with beginners who worked for nothing....that never changes. And then
the only satisfaction I got was learning how to work with clients making
very high end cabinetry and occasionally a nice piece of furniture.
It's still the same business.
for wood selection in those days it was mostly what they wanted. I
certainly made suggestions but it is primarily trend based with most
people...70's and 80's - Birch/Red Oak/Eastern Walnut...90's -
Cherry/Mahogany/Maple, that sort of thing.
the late 80's and early 90's I broke free of all that designer stuff
and was working primarily with clients directly. I began to have more
influence on wood choices and eventually design as well. I had enough
experience and knowledge to be much more creative. By the early 90's I
was mostly making furniture, mid 90's I made a big choice. No more
cabinetry, no more stock trendy designs. With a very strong interest in
historical architecture and furniture design through the ages, I
committed myself to building a very unique portfolio, unlike anyone
else's work - no Shaker stuff, no Craftsman style, no Memphis, no Post
Modern. My interest from the beginning was as sculpture and unique
design, so I committed to a long term effort at developing my unique
look. What you see at my website reflects a small selection of work,
both commissioned and speculative, since 1995.
I went to Marylhurst University in the early 90's and studied Interior
Design, and in particular a rigorous study of furniture history. That
had a significant impact on my knowledge, and an even bigger impact on
my designs from that point on. Why I choose to make the things I do,
looking like they do, has a lot to do with the reasons our furniture
ancestors made the choices they did - but I am a bit irreverent and
full of irony. The anthropology of the times that those designs
happened was more significant then, people designed things because it
fit a need, or fit a lifestyle. For example in the 17th and 18th
Century women wore gowns with huge hoop skirts, they couldn't sit
anywhere so a special stool like chair was designed for them to
straddle and perch on when they needed to rest at the ball (of course
the masses didn't wear those gowns, but then they didn't have furniture
either) - all of that is fascinating to me. I think today there is
much less reasoning about furniture design, mostly just following
whatever trend the media is interested in. Although right at the moment
furniture design is based on budget, and styling is more 50's retro - I
find that part lazy, not fully developed or thoughtful. It's time once
things get moving again for new innovation, it's missing. I'm hoping
the next generation will find some balances between excellent
craftsmanship and innovative styling.
was all my ideas and my wood choices (with respect for my clients
input, but they were more adventuresome and wanted to see new work,
that's why they came to me in the first place). Also I began using other
materials like metals (mainly forged and mangled steel), but also
copper and silver, upholstery used in unusual ways as well. I began
playing with unusual and experimental finishes. I played with milkpaint
way back in the mid 80's, but also shellacs and graphite coloration.
Color, wood, details, embellishments are chosen to fit the design for
that particular piece. Wood does not inspire the design, the design asks
for a careful selection of materials.
lot of experimentation, wood became a distant interest, even a
necessary evil because you have to sand it and sand it and sand
it....but I never lost sight of its inherent beauty. But my choices were
always whether the wood fit my design intention, sometimes beautiful
wood wasn't important at all.
Do you make all your veneers or only on certain applications?
only rarely do I make my own veneers. Learning traditional veneer
technique in the early 90's opened me up to some amazing design
opportunities. Prior to that I was forced to use plywood from local
dealers or have stuff laid up for me and that was way too expensive and
never suited my picky demands. At the beginning of my own veneer work I
used Dietrich Veneers, very nice to work with but I was frustrated with
the quality of the lay ups, for most people they have nice veneer. So I
learned how to do my own. It is extremely time consuming to do it right -
but my work seemed to demand it. Mostly I buy my veneers from around
the country and Canada, depending on finding what I am looking for. I
use Certainly wood in NY a lot; also B&B Rare Woods has some
beautiful stuff as well. Depends on the wood and my working relationship
with the people at the dealers, they have to be very accommodating and
have good photos.
What is the advantage of shop made veneers?
advantage is that I can't find what I want for the project mainly, but
sometimes a special client understands they can get something very
special if I find some very special boards and slice it up. The
thickness is of course a plus; handmade is much thicker, less prone to
splitting because I control the process. Unless the pieces are very
small I don't do it myself. I use Creative Woodworking in Portland; they
do a fantastic job for me. But the cost of handmade veneers is far more
in all respects than buying ready made flitches, so that is a major
factor in making that kind of choice.
How has technology helped/improved your work?
the technology. My determination to create a unique portfolio was not
going to be limited to woodworking technique alone. In fact I really
have never had much interest in 'technique'. I know that most
woodworkers love the process, it is why they do it, and they have a lot
of fun learning joinery and such. They choose to make a piece of
furniture based on the opportunity to use joinery techniques and
beautiful wood. Truth be known, I could care less about such things, I
only learned all of that because I had to make high quality work. But
like wood choices, technique has nothing to do with my designs. I have
made a concerted effort for almost 40 years to avoid
dovetails...blasphemy I know. That is not what makes a piece well
designed, unless it is demanded for the design. I remember way back in
the late 70's I was an assistant to a guy named Bob Shimobukuru at
Oregon College of Art and Craft who was the first woodworking instructor
there. He was pretty good about it all, I was pretty insistent even
then being a sculptor - but he was insistent that I at least learn
proper technique and learn how to do it well. After he left I was
assistant to Sam Bush, who was the first to fully develop the wood
program there. Sam was a traditionalist...you might guess his response
to my attitude, we went around. But in spite of my attitude I learned a
lot from Sam, he was an excellent technician and insistent I learn so
that I could teach the students properly. No regrets. But I still don't
get excited about dovetails.
to process. What I found was that I can't do everything. What I found
was that there are those out there who take a lot of pride in doing
things very well but also know how to use current technology. CNC,
digital programming (drawing), laser cutting, water jet cutting. I
learned how to weld so I could sculpt with steel, which I could do. But
the other stuff, I could learn it, sure, but I found those who were
masters at it and wanted to work with me to be collaborators on my
unusual projects were already doing it and they have the equipment. What
I learned was that with their help I could make things I could never
have dreamed of doing prior to this kind of technology and their help.
But you have to be selective; most people are only interested in making a
buck, be careful. It matters when they not only can guide me in my
ideas but offer new ones to add to the mix. It's a lot of fun, the
results can be extraordinary. But watch out for geeky guys with short
hair and khaki pants.
West Linn, OR