To Portland woodworker Chris Held, furniture is a way to connect with a past that’s disappeared from much of America. “I work with old materials and weathered finishes to infuse my furniture with nostalgia,” says Held. “I grew up in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta where everything old was torn down to make room for the new. My furniture represents a yearning for the old, for something that doesn’t smell of fresh asphalt.”
When it comes to woodworking, Brian Pietrowski is a jack-of-all-trades. One day he’ll craft a conceptual art piece made from plywood and Formica; the next, he’ll build period-authentic studio furniture. And that’s the way he likes it. “There are so many different ways to approach furniture and design and construction,” says the Portland artist. “I find myself dabbling in everything. I just like making things, that’s what it comes down to.”
Imagine crafting a piece of art without being able to really see what you’re creating, only having the vision in your mind to go on. That’s exactly what Portland woodworker Ben Carpenter does when he carves his vessels and sculptures. “After I’ve turned the basic vessel shape on the lathe and hollowed it out, I sit down in a chair with my hand-held power carver and start carving away at it,” says the 23-year-old. “But during the whole process it looks really rough and you can’t see the grain until you put the finish on, so you have to be confident that it will turn out the way you want it to.”
To make the legs of his tables black, furniture designer Ken Tomita uses sumi, Japanese calligraphy ink. He got the idea while studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. “We were given an assignment to come up with 10 different ways of making wood black,” he says. “I used the ink for one of them. I discovered that it has the right amount of gloss, and it’s a deep black. It’s like painting a void.”
Marjin Wall took up woodworking because she needed furniture for the house she moved into to attend Reed College in Portland in the 1970s. “I didn’t own any furniture, so I signed up for a wood projects class at Portland Community College so that I could make a desk for myself,” she says.
For furnituremaker Craig Windom, it’s all about the wood. “I love old wood,” he says. “I love searching for it. It’s usually wood that has a certain patina or grain. It may have been real weathered and beaten up and had some nails in it, but I can see the potential in it. I clean it up and it becomes a beautiful piece of wood.”