BY PATRICIA DUFF
Whidbey Life Magazine editor
Aug. 26, 2013
Like a surfer looking for the next perfect wave, or a mushroom hunter using a pig to sniff out the elusive white-mushroom of Italy, the American woodworker is always looking for that next piece of exquisite wood.
Here on Whidbey Island, we’re lucky to have a bevy of fine woodworkers all perfecting their various Holy Grails and presenting them each year in a wood-crafting extravaganza.
The Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild presents the Tenth Annual “Art + Wood = Woodpalooza” at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. The exhibit continues from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 through Monday, Sept. 2.
In 2001, the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild was formed to bring together the woodworking community of Whidbey. Now in its tenth year, the Guild includes makers of furniture, cabinetry, architectural woodwork, tuners, clock makers, sawyers, carvers, restorers, musical instrument makers, boat builders and refinishers. Whidbey Island is fortunate to have so many talented woodworkers, most of whom work in small one or two-person shops, some of which you can visit on the island studio tours.
Gary Leake is a longtime guild member, who will show a set of unusual, glass-backed walnut chairs with a walnut table. The fused-glass back is something he’s never seen and he still hasn’t found anything like it on the Internet.
Leake is a true-blue woodworker in that he is devoted to the search for excellent wood.
“It is very difficult to find good wood with a lot of character,” Leake said. He and his wife, Sandy, are always on the chase.
“We work very closely with a small mill in Pennsylvania and drive our truck back to select special pieces of black cherry, black walnut, hickory, maple and others. It’s a long drive for wood, but we also take time to visit the Shaker communities and museums for inspiration,” he said.
Like many woodworkers, Leake was inspired to the craft by his grandfather, who was an antique restorer and cabinetmaker in Portland.
“I loved the smell and touch of the various woods and even the sawdust. (It made a great fireball in the old woodstove!),” Leake said. “After he died, I inherited many of his hand tools, planes, saws, chisels, and his bedpost lathe. I am reminded of him anytime I use any of his tools.”
Leake said it’s the antique restoration jobs and custom-made furniture that pays most of the bills, but the passion is revealed in the wood art. For Leake, Shaker-style is a favorite, but he also likes to create contemporary furniture for the freedom it allows to “follow the wood.” The wood drives the design.
He said passion is revealed in many of the woodworkers in this show, which includes a number of new artists this year, including Dave Saunders and his Japanese looms; the curved vessels of Richard Harris; and the Northwest Native American-style carvings of Arlo Morgenweck.
“John Shinneman is a true Renaissance man,” Leake said, referring to Shinneman’s producing beautiful pieces of furniture without using any electrical tools.
“Mike Flanagan has ventured beyond furniture to do fish nets and Janet Lewis has yet another fine guitar,” Leake said.
He also said that Rick Pitt’s Hawaiian Koa rocking chair is “to die for.”
And then, of course, there are the animal carvings of Pat McVay, which are fun for the kids to see.
“A number of years ago Sandy and I saw the Shaker exhibit when it came to Seattle,” Leake said. “The exhibit was wonderfully thought provoking. The Shakers believed that working and doing all work as perfectly as possible brought them closer to God ─ ‘Hands to work, Hearts to God.’ The furniture literally brought tears to my eyes. The craftsmanship was perfect, the design simple and proportioned. We were hooked.”
That’s the kind of inspiration Leake hopes will affect folks who come to Woodpalooza, especially young people who might be considering woodworking as a profession. The exhibit is designed to educate and inspire folks to take a close look at the variety of wood and the craft of forms, while also rubbing shoulders with local artisans who carry on one of the oldest and artistic of American professions.
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts is located at 565 Camano Ave. in Langley. The free exhibit takes place in Zech Hall.
For more info about the Whidbey Island Woodworkers guild visit Woodpalooza.com.
(Pictured at top, a detail of guitar inlay by Janet Lewis.)
Patricia Duff is a freelance writer, award-winning journalist and the editor of this magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.