Gallery Talk

I was asked recently to give a gallery talk about my woodworking, and I decided to select a small number of images and organize the talk around them. Here are the eleven images I picked and roughly what I had to say about them.

I usually tell people that I started woodworking in 1980, when I first rented commercial space in Oakland to work in. The romance of the crafts was in the air in those days, and a lot of people took the plunge, but I stayed in longer than most; I designed and made custom furniture and cabinets full-time for twelve years, before finally deciding I needed a day job. I then went to engineering school and became a civil engineer, which became my principal occupation after that.

But I didn’t give up woodworking. I kept a workshop in a thousand-square-foot outbuilding we had acquired on moving to Napa in 1987, where I continued to make a few pieces a year, and after 2009 I was able to return to woodworking full-time. Since then, I have felt like Rip Van Winkle in the story by Washington Irving, who woke up after twenty years to a village that had changed around him.

 

Warren reception desk

                                 Reception Desk                                eklatt

The Reception Desk is a typical early piece. Designed by my wife and frequent collaborator Evelyn, it was a substantial piece of casework which aimed to blend with the architectural environment, in this case a Victorian house remodeled into modern offices, and its personality expresses that.

The mahogany dining table in the next image is another piece from the eighties. As in the reception desk, molding details were carefully selected and executed. The table has a curved apron and some definite decorative touches, but the design is still restrained.

Evelyn's dining table

                                Detail of Evelyn’s Dining Table                             eklatt

 

Although decorative touches like these were typical of those days, we also made pieces that were plainer; a custom shop has to learn to work in a variety of styles. The Gateleg Table below was made for a number of customers. It is a simple and practical apartment table that seats four comfortably but takes up very little space when both drop leaves are lowered.

Gateleg table

Gateleg Table

 

The nightstand pictured next came into my life during the nineties, after I had become an engineer by day. An old customer from my Oakland days wanted a bedroom set, and she brought me a photo of a classic modern-era nightstand, for me to copy. I feel bad that I don’t recall the name of the designer, because I later took much inspiration from the piece.

Euro nightstand

Euro Nightstand

When I became a daytime woodworker again in 2009, I was surprised to discover that this nightstand had grown on me in the intervening years, and I immediately made a couple more of them, including the one pictured in white oak. The stark simplicity of the design, dominated as it is by a bold geometric idea, seemed like a revelation; and what you might call a plain modern style became a starting point for my renewed career, someone to be enhanced by anything but decoration. The Samba Nightstands, with their big curves, are in this vein.

Samba nightstands

Samba Nightstands

 

It wasn’t long before I revisited the earlier gateleg table. In the Oval Gateleg Table below, curved or tapered lines abound, and the fixed center section of the tabletop is skewed with respect to the overall elliptical shape. The skew adds to the stability of this light table, by positioning the legs closer to the ends of the top, and it also allows the table to accommodate six. Visually, the skew adds a dynamic symmetry to the piece, which is further enhanced by the use of a contrasting accent wood in parts of the top and base.

For good measure, the cherry top makes intentional use of a lot of the lighter sapwood, something I would never have done in the old days. I learned early on to select heartwood for appearance, somewhat in the same way that I learned to cut out knots, checks and waney edges – what used to be called defects in the material. These habits were enforced by the customer, who might in theory agree that a knot was beautiful but generally did not want it in a piece of expensive furniture. Nowadays people are much more open to the natural variability in the material.

Oval gateleg table

Oval Gateleg Table

 

Walking Benches

Walking Benches

The Walking Benches, like the oval gateleg table, incorporate variable curves and a contrasting accent wood in the service of dynamic symmetry. Each bench seems to be frozen in mid-stride.

 

Phoenix Table

                                                         Phoenix Table                                             eklatt

The Phoenix Table makes expressive use of knots, waney edges and sapwood in the cherry boards – those things that I once learned to avoid – and there are meandering accent stripes of walnut in the top, which align with stripes and expansion joints in the trestle ends.

 

Bridge on Fire table

Bridge on Fire Table

If you like knots and waney boards, what’s not to like about a slab? This eight foot redwood slab seemed to call for a base that reflected the California tradition of using redwood for outdoor structures. The table looks engineered in an old-fashioned way, and the major contrast in the piece is between the hardware-heavy base and the simple natural lines of the top.

 

Cherry finelines table

                            Finelines Table No. 1                      eklatt

In this small occasional table, the accent stripes in the Phoenix Table above have morphed into veneer-thickness lines which delineate the joint lines in the top; and the joints follow irregular lines, mimicking the grain lines in the adjoining boards.  The visual contrast in the different boards thus becomes an overt feature of the design. Knots and checks are retained, in further homage to the accidental variety of the material.

 

Spoon bench in the evening

Spoon Bench in the Evening

Like many recent pieces, this bench was inspired by a board – a highly figured piece of spalted western maple which had settled into a dramatic curved surface in the seasoning process. It looked like it wanted to be a bench seat. The base, which looks like another engineer’s delight, was designed to support this odd-shaped salvaged piece.

3 Responses to “Gallery Talk”

  1. Becca Lawton says:

    Beautiful work and commentary, Bob! Love reading the history of your craft and seeing the amazing results. Thanks for this.

  2. Eric says:

    Boy, I haven’t been part of a group show in quite a while. It’s nice to see your growth over time.

  3. Peggy Parrott says:

    All of this is so beautiful and interesting. I feel intrigued by your work. Thank you!

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