For me, one of the hardest things to decide in starting a woodworking business was to determine specifically what type of work or product I wanted to pursue. I’ve done a lot of different styles of woodworking, ranging from kitchen ducks to Queen Anne reproductions. It seemed to me that at either end of the spectrum, there were more cons than pros if I really wanted to make a living at it. I remember driving by a home where the owner made his living by making all sorts of wood craft objects. His yard would be filled literally from one end to the other. I’m not sure how well he did, but it seemed as if he must have been working day and night to make that many objects. At the other end of the spectrum, the reproduction furniture market, it is very difficult to make money because of the amount of time needed to create this type of work, and finding a buying customer that is willing to spend what you need to charge. I still do a little bit of both, but I spent a lot of time searching for a niche that I could find a good balance between the effort and the result. I’m always searching, but I have found an area of woodworking that provides what I am looking for. I have always loved Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, Mission, etc. styles of woodworking. For me, it represents an honest, genuine, if not nostalgic way of making a living whether it be woodworking, textiles, ceramics, etc.
This past year I did something I’ve never done and traveled more than 600 miles just to visit a museum. The Smithsonian (at the Renwick) had an exhibit of Greene & Greene art and furniture, and it was like Mecca for me. Sort of like the sun coming down through the clouds, with glorious singing all around. For my taste, the Greene brothers exemplify the epitome of the Arts & Crafts movement. I asked the Renwick people if I could make drawings (no pics allowed) and they said yes so I spent a good afternoon drawing as many close-up details as I could. At one point I was showing my wife a detail on one of the tables and accidentally touched the table (no touching allowed). It didn’t hurt anything, but it hit me like a brick – - I touched a piece of Greene & Greene – sort of the feeling you get when you shake the hand of a famous person. Of course my wife thinks I’m nuts. I bought as many books at the Renwick as I could but there was one that I passed up because it was fairly expensive. As my wife and I were driving out of Washington, DC, we had probably driven ten blocks or so from the Renwick. The book kept haunting me and miraculously, a parking spot opened up. Anyone who has ever driven in Washington knows that a parking spot is almost non-existent. It was fate. I quickly pulled over, and walked (actually ran) the ten blocks back to the Renwick to buy the book. I have been bitten by the Greene & Greene bug if there is such a thing.
When we got back home I immediately went to work building a fireplace for my patio in the Greene & Greene style. I was amazed at the amount of detail work required but I loved every minute of it. One difference as compared to period furniture, at least for me, is that every piece of a Greene & Greene work is a stand-alone piece of art. The rounding of edges, the shape of the clouds, the stained glass, etc. are all elements that can stand by themselves. It’s as if each piece is saying ‘THIS IS WHAT I AM’.
So I have chosen to pursue Arts & Crafts, leaning heavily towards Greene & Greene. I’ve even started learning how to do work stained glass! I’m even incorporating the A&C / Greene & Greene approach into my remodeling work as well.
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