Where I create is near latitude 45 degrees north in Northern Vermont. My wife, Sarah, and I have separate workshops and studios on our property, which are on the other side of a small stream—a seasonably changing short walk through a hay meadow, across an arched walkway. For about half the year, you can look out from one of our workshop windows and see a blanket of white snow, backed by leafless grey trees and evergreens. As most know, Vermont means green mountains, thus the other six months are all shades of green everywhere, except in the fall when the leaves amaze with vivid yellows, oranges and reds. Being a woodworker, it is nice to be located north of the “termite zone,” though we do however still have challenges from the beavers and carpenter ants.
“You will be known by the tracks you leave behind”
— Santee Sioux Indians, North America
My workshop is located approximately 800 feet from the house, so my commute is quite different from the one I can hear on the road over the hills through the woods. The dirt road by my house and woodshop is not really a direct route to anywhere so there are just a few cars, milk trucks and the occasional school bus that pass by. When I first moved here, it was, more-or-less, small dairy farms and maple syrup production. While our town continues to produce more maple syrup than any county in the state, times change, and many of the small farms have closed, leaving many of the people to now commute to the nearby cities for work. In the early days here, a morning on our dirt road would render birds chirping and cows lowing in the meadows. Now I can sometimes go out in the morning and hear in the distance what sounds like a waterfall. It is the sound of cars commuting on the asphalt three miles away. I call it the “rubber tire waterfall”.
I moved to my piece of Vermont farmland twelve miles south of the Canadian border decades ago and continue to improve my work and living spaces. I am a master carpenter and cabinetmaker and expert timber framer (having built my first timber frame many years ago). Over the years, I have applied my trade to most of the areas of house and barn building. I have built over thirty houses and barns, as well as, saved many of the old Vermont barns through restoration and/or complete disassembly, moving and reconstructing many to new sites.
These days, I thoroughly enjoy working in my woodshop, harvesting and drying some of my lumber and wood from my property, creating my own visions of various projects such as large tables, carved headboards, benches and wood carvings, etc. Of all the items I love to make in my workshop, large rustic tables are the most satisfying, as many good times can be had by all when gathering around them. I also enjoy making one or two-dozen round or oval baskets per year out of the Alder and Boxwood that grows along the stream and meanders through the property. Today, I have largely transitioned away from collaborating with clients on visions they have to instead create the wooden items of my dreams, such as these. While I predominantly work with wood, I have also built many true Rumford fireplaces and chimneys, as well, as have experimented with blacksmithing—making rough iron hinges, hasp hooks, handles and latches.
I mostly go by measurement that is “PLEASING TO THE EYE”
I have always had an affinity for working with wood from when my uncle George taught me how to use a handsaw and through my first carpentry job—a company that specialized in putting up polo pony barns and stables. I was fortunate in the early days to work with several very knowledgeable and talented carpenter/woodworkers who not only taught me technique but also the actual joy and fulfillment of the work itself. While I am experienced in producing high-end and highly finished cabinetry and interiors, my preference is medieval meets Southwest hacienda style with rough sawn texture timber and boards. I often include accents of iron banding, cut nails and spikes, decorative carvings and inlays of wood, metal and bone. I mostly go by measurement that is “pleasing to the eye”. Even after using the plumb bob, the level, the square, the straight edge and compass, my recommendation is to stand back and see how it looks before taking the next step or not.
Similar to musicians working with music, it’s as much about the notes you do not play, as the ones you do.
I probably developed much of my aesthetic taste from my many early formative years spending long hours in the Gothic-inspired churches and cathedrals of the United States, as my father was an Episcopalian Priest. Most of these halls of worship held true in their construction and detailing to the rules, mathematics and proportions of classical architectural times. In my work, I try to mostly adhere to these time tested norms, which are in fact based on nature and the world around us.
In addition to paying attention to the classic forms of historically respected architectural forms and proportions, I find inspiration in the Flora and fauna around me and what has gone on before, historically speaking. I include in my carvings animism with birds, bears, dragonflies and others layered into the backgrounds of my pieces. I am influenced by Greek architecture including the golden section, the orders of the columns, numerology, the art of the Celts, Moorish ornament, Albrecht Durer, the artists of the Renaissance, Norse mythology and the stave churches of Scandinavia. I often start my work with an underlying geometric base, for example, perhaps seven to nine circles, and then weave in twisting vine-like floral and tree elements. These pieces sometimes become the carved headboards that I sell.
For me variety is spicy. So, I usually have multiple projects going on at once and work on one as the others wait their turn. My workshop does have a place for everything and while everything is not always in its place, I likely still know where it is. Over the years, I have collected many different types of tools and all in different sizes and shapes that now adorn every inch of the walls layered on top of each other like a medieval workshop. As I once heard and also work by,
“Function in chaos. Finish with style”.