The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship is a cluster of simple red buildings, set in the forests and meadows outside Rockland, Maine. This state is a natural fit to be the epicenter of the woodworking world, with an enduring forestry industry and the Shaker folk art tradition. Woodworking is in Maine’s history, and because of people like Michaela, it’s in Maine’s future.
Twenty-three year-old Michaela has a fellowship at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. She has the brain of a scientist and the eye of an artist. Her work is modern and intricate: she made chairs with clean, curved lines and a table with a complex inlaid filigree. Her remarkable vision and ruthless perfectionism is vividly apparent, each piece could easily be at home in a museum or gallery. However, she has only been a woodworker for less than a year.
HOW DID YOU END UP HERE?
So I grew up down the street, and my parents still live there, and I moved back in with them last year after graduating from college, like most broke college graduates. And I studied sculpture and painting at Skidmore. I always worked in metal in sculpture or mixed media, I never worked in wood. I applied for a scholarship to come here for a basic two-week woodworking workshop in the summer and got that, so I basically was coming for free since I lived at home. And I just kind of fell in love with the furniture making process. I thought that having some wood working skills would help my sculpture practice, but I ended up sticking around. I did the two-week course, then the 12-week course, then was encouraged by my instructor to apply for the fellowship. So, I’ve been at the fellowship since last February and I’ll be here until March.
WHY DO YOU THINK WORKING WITH WOOD WAS SUCH A GOOD FIT FOR YOU?
It takes a lot of precision and planning, and I have a very scientific brain. I started out as a neuroscience major and I gave up science because I didn’t want to be in the lab all day, and I love making things. I don’t know if it’s just wood, but furniture making requires a lot of planning, more so than other sculptural practices.
WHAT DOES MAINE MEAN TO YOU?
It means home, first and foremost, and it also really means being in touch with nature. There’s so much to do outside and it’s so beautiful but also I think all the people I’ve ever met in Maine have a deep connection and respect for the land, no matter what their political view is.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Family is definitely really important to me. I know it’s what most people would probably say. Staying connected with family. I think making my parents proud is really important to me. Luckily, I what’s important to them is that I’m happy and that I’m doing what I want to do. Making them proud is just working hard at whatever I want to do. Also, I think integrity in my work is really important to me; making it as well as I can and always growing and trying to improve my skills. Even if there is an easier way to do things, I like to do things by hand when I can. And if something doesn’t go perfectly well, do it again, instead of covering up the mistakes.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING?
I’m learning that you can’t always do things perfectly and you can’t always start over, which is important. I’ve heard from more than one furniture maker here, that a good furniture maker is one that is really good at fixing mistakes, rather than doing it perfectly the first time. I’ve been a perfectionist my whole life, so that’s a big lesson. Just kind accepting that, and using mistakes as an opportunity to maybe change the design.
HOW DOES YOUR CRAFT BALANCE FORM AND FUNCTION?
It’s a struggle because there is this strong sense, still today, where you have to be either a craftsman or an artist. It’s kind of set up in a midcentury modern times where modernists were very puritanical about who is an artist and who isn’t. So, that’s been a struggle for me, but it’s also really exciting because I think that’s changing with my generation. People are getting much more into function and interactivity with their work and still consider themselves an artist. I think now since I’m here, my influences are definitely pushing me towards what would traditionally be craftsmanship, where things really have a function and they work. A chair is comfortable and you can sit in it, it’s not a conceptual chair that would fall over is you tried to sit in it. I’m really just trying to take advantage of this place and learn as much as I can about building things and building them well. My hope is that once I leave here I’ll return more into the fine art world without losing function for my furniture.
|Left, Michaela in the center's wood storage area. Right, her tool cabinet.|
WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR YOUR FUTURE?
I hope that I can find a niche where I can do what I want rather than take commissions of what other people want, or making cabinets because that’s kind of the avenue that a lot of furniture makers find themselves in just to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m hoping that it’s not necessarily my fate and that I can work on my own designs with the majority of my time.
See Michaela's work here:
See Michaela's work here: