[Ed. note: Evan Leggett is the son of one of our craftsmen, Dave Leggett. Evan is interning with us this summer on his summer break from Virginia Commonwealth University.]
My career at Hardwood Artisans started with a little get-together hosted by our founder Greg Gloor, showcasing his newly-built house and the furniture insider (manufactured by our company, of course). I had been introduced to many of the craftsmen through my dad, but never really had the chance to meet any of the brains behind the day-to-day operations. It was there that I met Alison Heath, the Marketing Director, and Mark Gatterdam, the jack-of-all-trades owner and designer.
After talking for awhile we came across the subject of my education. I’m a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Arts program. Last year I completed the Arts Foundation course, which is a crash course in creating and evaluating art. This first year course has little to do with the major you choose; it’s basically set up to weed out the people who don’t have what it takes. You choose your major at the end of the year. I chose graphic design.
During my talk with Alison and Mark, I told them all about my previous semester and what I had been doing. Near the end of the night, Alison told me to contact her at the end of my year to see if she would have anything that I could do for the summer. I had a few offers like this before, but none that I was so excited about pursuing. I sent her an email, and the rest is history!
This summer I will be working and apprenticing under Alison for two days a week and apprenticing under Greg Gloor for the other three, so I get exposure to both the business side of the operations as well as the furniture-building side.
Working here is like nothing I have ever experienced before; most people I know are terrified to use a saw that’s a quarter of the size of the ones we have here. Like all jobs it has its ups and downs, but its ups don’t get any higher and its downs are no where near as low as they could be. I enjoy what I’m doing and my only regret is that I know I’ll miss it when I’m sitting at a computer six days a week next year.
This past weekend was our 3rd Annual Lemonade Social, and it was such a treat to see so many of our customers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the event from the cookies to the wide selection of floor models we were able to offer, but the two biggest standouts were our featured items: the Essentials Collection and the finished pool table.
We had folks breaking the balls left and right and the cracks of kissing balls could be heard throughout the duration of the social. Folks really fell in love with the new pool tables, with many approving of the beautiful but not visually heavy design. With such excitement surrounding the pool table, Curt was inspired to make a smaller model to put in a showroom soon. We’ll keep you updated!
Many social attendees also fell for our Essentials Collection. No matter the room—bedroom, office or dining—the Essentials Collection is a great deal and was just what many folks were hoping to find in this economy—a fabulous product at an extremely affordable price. Kevin, our delivery manager, said half a dozen new Essentials rooms found forever homes in the DC metro area this weekend alone. Will yours be next?
Here’s a drive-by post just to point out that the American Art Museum’s blog posted an entry about the Greene & Greene exhibition with a different picture than any of the others I’ve seen (of furniture no less!) so head on over there and check it out.
According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s website, “Carrie Rebora Barratt is Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Manager of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
Last night, however, she was the speaker at the latest edition of the museum’s Collectors’ Roundtable series: American Picture Frames: Choices by Artists and Collectors. She spent a good portion of her time discussing the renovations they have just completed or are starting at the Met, but she did go into some detail about choices that have been made regarding the frame of a very high profile Met painting: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.
The painting was acquired by the Met in 1897. A picture from 1910 shows the painting in a great old frame, but in pictures from 1917, that frame is already gone. That said, the curators weren’t satisfied with just their own archival photos and they decided to do some more research.
Further archival research was done to determine the sort of frame that the artist would have preferred to see on the work. The Met turned up pictures from the New York Historical Society that showed the painting the same year it was painted (just after the Civil War) and the wild Federal Revival frame the artist had commissioned for it in a fit of mid-19th century nostalgia. They have commissioned a reproduction of that frame to show in their new galleries starting in 2011. Keep your eyes peeled for this because it’s truly something else—gilded with a huge carved rampant eagle on the top. Here’s a brief story about it from the New York Times that doesn’t have nearly enough pictures.
Though Barratt touched briefly on the craftsmanship required to create such a frame and professed to appreciate frames as works of art in themselves, it seemed clear that at heart, she truly is a paintings person and not so much a craft person. After all, her focus was what the artist would have wanted to see on their picture and not what the framer would have considered most appropriate. And she was fairly dismissive of collectors who change frames to suit their interior design.
This was underscored in a conversation I had with an American Art Museum docent during the reception after the lecture. Apparently getting docents for the American Art portion of the museum is much easier than getting docents for the Renwick. I had been under the perhaps mistaken impression that craft had gained more respect in museum-world than it appears that it has, at least among scholars and docents.
The final lecture of the spring series takes place Tuesday, May 19th when Dr. Walter O. Evans, major collector of African American art will discuss Collecting Outside the Canon.
Local blog DCist has a great post about activities happening during CraftWeek DC, taking place between today, April 22nd and April 26th. Included are studio tours, lectures, a special tour by the curator of the Greene & Greene exhibition at the Renwick and any number of galas and benefits that mainly support the Smithsonian’s craft acquisition, research and education programs surrounding contemporary craft.
For fans of Etsy or Sugar Loaf, DC this weekend is going to be a veritable playground.
And don’t forget that Hardwood Artisans carries a range of American craft, from Ephraim Faience pottery to Motawi Tileworks decorative tiles to Robert Hargrave‘s unique sculptural wood clocks and mirrors.
Having the Smithsonian in our backyard is real gift that most of us take for granted. Not only do we get great exhibitions like the Greene & Greene show I wrote about a few weeks ago, we also have a ton of educational opportunities and experts right nearby.
Take today, for instance. I got an email from a customer wondering what to do about a Nakashima dining table she needs restored. She wanted to know if we could help her with it. Now, we’re pretty good, but we’re not conservators. Though I’ve had a lot of luck having my own flea market finds refinished by our expert finishers, I think even they would hesitate before taking on a Nakashima table.
The reason I knew this was that I went to a Smithsonian program last year about American craft where they gave some auction estimates for Nakashima, Maloof and other modern studio furniture makers’ pieces. Some were, to put it mildly, astronomical and sometimes value can be hurt by refinishing.
So rather than send her the name of our standard refinishing guy and call it a day, I decided to find the phone number for the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian and see if they could recommend someone. Thanks to the Smithsonian’s Twitter person, I got a name and a phone number and met a very nice woman named Julie who put our customer in touch with their conservators. All this took less than half an hour.
So lucky me. I get to make a local phone call the little museum in our backyard and put our customer in touch with some of the foremost furniture conservators in the world.
Nakashima dining table (not the customer’s)
Two weeks ago, I made it out to the Renwick Gallery to see the Greene & Greene show. After some slight confusion on my part as to where it’s actually located (hint—it’s right behind the Old Executive Office Building), I was quite pleased with the quality of the exhibition, but since I had gotten lost, I didn’t have enough time to read everything before the museum closed for the night.
Not only did they have a great collection of letters and photographs, they also showed some of the original architectural plans. The level of detail the Greenes went to on those plans was quite OCD—plans for all the lighting, furniture, stained glass—very much in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright. These were architects with Vision.
As usual though, my favorite part was the furniture. Of course, pictures can’t do it justice. It’s so difficult to reproduce the glow of wood photographically, especially when you add 100 years of patina. So here are some of the highlights courtesy of the Gamble House website.
Charles Sumner Greene
Breakfast table, 1899
Douglas fir, cedar, oak, mahogany, and birch
Wedding present for his wife, Alice
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Desk chair, ca. 1905
Adelaide A. Tichenor house, Long Beach, 1904–05
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Hall chair, 1907
Mahogany and ebony
Made by Peter and John Hall
Dr. William T. Bolton house, Pasadena, 1906–07
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Bookcase, ca. 1912
Mahogany, ebony, and glass
Made by Peter and John Hall
Cordelia A. Culbertson house, Pasadena, 1911–13
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Gift of Linda and James Ries in memory of
Dorothy and Harold Shrier
Photography © 2007 Museum Associates/LACMA
Most of these pieces are from their early to mid-career, but what surprised me most about this later piece was how modern it looks. Take away the leaded glass and it really starts to look more like part of the Modernist movement than the Arts & Crafts movement.
All in all, the best way to see these pieces is in person. So if you’re anywhere near DC, I highly recommend that you check out the exhibit before it closes on June 7th. Here’s the Smithsonian page on the exhibition, with a link to the online exhibition produced by the Gamble House.
You and I may be doing fine, but with unemployment at over 8%, a lot of people could use a little extra help right now.
An article in our local paper (the News and Messenger, not the Post) down here in Woodbridge underscored the need for giving what you can right now, especially to food banks.
For several months now, Hardwood Artisans has had a partnership with ACTS (Action in the Community Through Service), a Dumfries, Virginia-based non-profit organization. It started with a furniture donation drive over the holidays to support their thrift stores.
Next month, Hardwood Artisans will be hosting the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at our workshop in Woodbridge. We have requested that those attending bring a non-perishable food item for donation to ACTS. It’s a small thing, but every little bit counts.
So if you’re attending, don’t forget to bring that canned good! And if you’re not, consider dropping by a local food bank or church. They’ll be happy to take your donation.
The web is a funny thing. Some days I can’t find what I want and I think all this online stuff is just a big waste of time. (I sound like Mark, don’t I? No, this is Alison.)
But other days, I think it’s great. (That’s better.)
For those of you who don’t know, Hardwood Artisans is also on Twitter. What’s Twitter? It’s like a blog, but everything has to be said in 140 characters or less. It’s an interesting mode of communication because it requires you to be concise. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in 11th grade English with Mrs. Avery telling me to eliminate all flowery language. No adverbs! No infinitives! If you use “however” or “anyway” you will be shot!
Anyway, this week, I sent one of Tom Heath’s Washington Post columns over to a guy named Ben McConnell, who wrote “Creating Customer Evangelists”. He then sent it out to all the people who read him as a great example of marketing coverage by mainstream media, giving me credit. If you’re a rock music fan, this is like being acknowledged by Mick Jagger or Eric Clapton. Wow.
Next, Mark was trying to design a piece of furniture for a customer that involves round legs. Since we don’t usually do round legs, we were going to have to buy them from someone who does, but we couldn’t find an appropriate supplier. Luckily, I happened to have met someone on Twitter a few weeks ago who does hand-turned wooden furniture legs: Within just a couple of hours, I had a drawing, I had a price and they told me they could mail them out today if I wanted them that fast. Wow again.
Just when my faith is lagging, something like this happens and all is right with the world again.
P.S. You can follow us on Twitter @furnituregirl.
It’s not often that I run across a company that I would love to work for. In fact, it took me almost ten years of working various places before I found my spiritual home at Hardwood Artisans.
Today I read about VIDA, a fitness company with three locations in the DC metro area, none near me all the way out here in the suburbs. This is a company that gets it, probably because they have a CEO who gets it–he has a passion for working out. I can relate. I’m a bit of a workout fanatic myself. I love to play softball, have had personal trainers at various points and really, truly enjoy working out.
To be honest, I don’t so much mind that my gym focuses on selling cheap memberships, locking people into long-term contracts and banking on the fact that most of them will work out for a month then never come back. It means that the gym isn’t crowded (yes, the resolution crowd has already dispersed), but it’s also not terribly honest. The gym knows they make more money when people don’t come back.
But VIDA does the opposite. By basing optimal profit levels on a certain (lower) number of memberships sold and focusing on giving those members great experiences, they have created a tremendously loyal following of people who love to go there and increasingly put other aspects of their lives under VIDA’s control (nutrition, laundry, spa services). It’s called the “lifetime value of a customer” and it’s something that not enough businesses focus on.
Even though the reporter focused on the business aspects of VIDA’s model, there’s a moral aspect as well. When you sell to someone who you know isn’t coming back, you’re not doing that person a service. When you sell a membership (or a product) to someone with the express purpose of making sure that they love it so much that they absolutely have to come back, you’re adding something to that person’s life.
We do the same. When a customer who has come to us before comes back, not only are we able to provide increasingly good service, we’re developing a real, human relationship. And what’s great about working here is that I can sit around all day thinking about how to offer better service instead of how to make more money. That’s good for everyone.
Now, off to the gym!