Often times, choosing the road less traveled makes all the difference, indeed. Frost’s words rose to the surface on a summer trip to Tamarack to visit the 13th Annual Best of West Virginia Open Juried Exhibition.
Like most visitors to Tamarack, my husband and I generally enter the facility through the main doors. However, this time we chose to park in the back parking lot and enter through the doors that led directly into the David L. Dickirson Fine Arts Gallery. While the overall visual, panoramic presentation was engagingly overwhelming, there was no mistaking the piece de resistance that caught my breath and held it, as I stopped suddenly to take in all it had to offer.
Many years before Tamarack was designed and built, travelers stopping to visit the state capitol and residents looking to purchase a piece created by a talented WV artisan were challenged to pick just one treasure from the gift shop: a piece of pottery, a hand-stitched quilt, an intricately-woven basket, sparkling glassware, a hand-crafted dulcimer, or a finely hand-planed table or chair.
As I entered the gallery that day, it was a table that caught my breath.
The piece, designed and crafted by Daniel Burgess of Raleigh County, titled “Downstream,” is a generous slab of wood that is so smooth to the touch that it could fall under the heading “therapeutic.” And closing your eyes as you scale its length adds an entirely new dimension. Its base is comprised of substantial, black steel. But it’s the incorporation of two, separate, linear pieces that captures the fluidity of the table and invites folks to pull up a chair and enjoy the fruits from one’s generous Appalachian garden.
Burgess colored the pieces of wood resin with an additive that’s very gel-like. Then, he added fine mica powders for a hint of shimmer. It’s mesmerizing and magical; a bit like the Land of Oz. Gallery Manager Mandy Lester recently shared with me that the table was hewn from an apple tree in Raleigh County.
Even if city life is your home base, this piece is so organic in design and so nature-inspired that you’ll feel as if you’ve gathered in the deep forest.
The very first piece of finely-crafted woodwork by a W.Va. furniture maker that my husband and I invested in was a multi-drawered, small cabinet designed by Jim Probst. While it was multi-purpose in its uses, it sat with pride beside my sewing machine. The drawers held all manner of sewing necessities, along with sewing patterns and my early collection of French ribbons, which I intentionally left dangling from one slightly-ajar drawer, a variety of fat quarters I used for the quilts I made, and one drawer protected my treasured handwritten letters from loved ones over the years.
Probst used different woods—walnut, cherry, and maple—in this unique piece, and I think that was one reason why it resonated with me on such a beautifully-simple level. It was very much like us, as we too change in so many ways throughout our life.
Probst’s furniture design is reminiscent of Shaker style: beautifully-simple, utilitarian, and unmistakably given to deep-thought as to the melding of the two into one. It’s a bit like a marriage. It’s also unencumbered.
Most recently, Probst has focused his attentions on fighting for climate justice and the future of coal miners, but that’s another story for another day. But if you can’t wait to hear it, Greta Moran penned a thought-provoking piece in Pacific Standard Magazine. Probst has not only brought distinction to the corner of the world that produces finely-crafted furniture by hand, but has now also brought attention to matters whose tentacles reach far beyond our mountains, affecting us all.
A conversation that focuses on the exceptional craftsmanship of West Virginia furniture makers would not be complete without shining an equally-bright light on the works designed by the talented woodworkers at Gat Creek Furniture in Berkeley Springs.
A visit to the company’s website introduces a compendium of finely-crafted tables and chairs, desks and cabinets, benches and bookcases in a variety of fine woods: ash, cherry, maple, and walnut to name just a few. And to add to the beauty of each, classic paint colors in shades of blue, green, and Sun Kiss Yellow beckon. It’s a vast array of choices to stimulate the most discerning tastes of those seeking out the finest of the fine.
Gat Creek’s focus on fine furniture craftsmanship doesn’t stop there. It reaches far beyond to encapsulate, at its core, environmental responsibility. “We got our first solar panels probably five or so years ago,” Gat Caperton said. Part of their sustainability story recounts that “90% of the heat for our facility is provided by wood scrap that would otherwise end up in the landfill.” That’s more than worth mentioning. That’s impressive.
Falling in love with Gat Creek Furniture is easy. Choosing which piece to purchase, not so easy. I was first introduced to this line of fine furniture by Matt Muck of Colonial Interiors in St. Albans, his family’s forty-year-old furniture business.
Muck once commented in a piece for the Spring, 2018 issue of WV Living Magazine, written by Zack Harold and titled “Roots Run Deep,” that he’s not a good salesman. He doesn’t need to be a good salesman. Gat Creek Furniture pieces have their own unique voice, and he lets them do the talking for him. Just knowing that the furniture is made in WV by West Virginians using lumber from local hardwoods is as succinct a conversation that needs to take place. Again, it’s that beautifully simple. And community is at its core.
“The people that work here are Sunday school teachers, they’re volunteer firefighters. It’s a weave of the American fabric of life,” Caperton explained. It is with a strong measure of WV pride that furniture designed and crafted by Gat Creek Furniture makes its way all across the globe.
Last Christmas, my husband surprised me by inviting me to visit with Matt Muck to commission Gat Creek Furniture to build a small, simple, writing table for me.
It’s true that it’s a flat top, with four tapered legs. What’s magnificent about it aside from its contagious simplicity, which speaks in a loud whisper to my insistence on living a very hygge life, is its color: Green Envy.
How ironic—in more ways than one, and in perhaps the only ways that truly matter.