Last night, we were thrilled to have two very talented woodworkers, Stefan Rurak and Candice Groenke, share with us some examples of their work and discuss their inspiration, their techniques, and what it’s like to be a skilled craftsperson working in New York. Though their paths to their professions couldn’t be more different – Candice worked as a carpenter for years before attending the College of the Redwoods for Fine Furniture, while Stefan trained as a studio artist before a sudden conversion to woodworking led him to apprentice with Brooklyn-based craftsman, Palo Samko – both speakers highlighted some important challenges we all face as woodworkers and how they manage them in their own work.
Candice showed us two of her pieces: a gorgeous wall clock she made as a thank you gift and a commissioned keepsake complete with a hand-carved top and a pressure fit tray that floats gracefully into place. She explained how she chose woods based on their particular properties whether visual, tactile, or if they “make you want to sink your teeth into them.” Over the course of a couple of months, she meticulously tested adhesives, experimented with clamping methods for unusual elements, and even made four different doors for the clock before she had the perfect one.
Stefan gave us a virtual tour of some of his seasonal collections, which tend to be thematically- rather than categorically-related. These included ultra-modern chairs inspired by the works of Nietzsche, a knockdown table that incorporates tusk tenons (a nod to Norse boat-building techniques), and a decorative chest made from a reclaimed oak beam with cylindrical drawers, which he drilled out using a vintage hand drill gifted to him by his father, just to name a few.
Listening to these two speakers one after the other, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. Both are clearly talented, highly-skilled artisans who are totally absorbed by the process of creation. Perhaps the difference lies more in what their work represents, rather than the work itself. In Candice’s work, one finds the pursuit of perfection, each element carefully considered and beautifully executed. Stefan’s work on the other hand is more like an evolution. Each piece is an experiment, building off of the previous incarnation toward something new. Together, these two exemplify the delicate balancing act all woodworkers must learn to manage between the desire for perfection in every piece and the necessity of completion in order to move on and continue to grow.
However, more interesting than the differences between the speakers are the commonalities. Both Stefan and Candice ended their talks on a similar note: the importance of friends. Friends offer a willing base of customers as well as a valuable marketing strategy for individual makers (nothing beats word-of-mouth). We all rely on our friends for support of all kinds and that’s really what NYCWG is all about, supporting each other and building a strong community. Many thanks to our speakers and to everyone who came out to support them. See you in all again in June!