Champion of Craft: Greg Klassen Furniture

As we celebrate the influence character has on art and design, the focus of  Issue 07 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly, we’re taking a closer look at the group of talented makers featured within.

Today we follow up with Greg Klassen, a contemporary fine furniture craftsman.  Read on to learn more about Greg’s thoughts on character and creation.

Issue 07 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly is focused on character. The character of your furniture is largely expressed through the character of the wood used to create it. Do you typically start with a plan or let the character of the material inform your work?

My furniture designs are inspired by the materials I use.  No two trees, or the boards that are milled from them, are the same and I try to celebrate the unique character of the wood with my designs. A pair of twisting natural edges can be brought together to create a void where I might add a river made of blue glass. Other times, I might plan a design around a large crack or a void in the wood.  I try to celebrate nature and stay out of the way!  The less I add to it, the better the design.  I like to think of my role as showing people the beautiful thing I found – and often that means a special pair of wood slabs with a little bit of my artistic touch added in.

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Can you share an essential part of your process or approach that puts your “fingerprint” as a craftsman on each piece?

My fingerprint appears in how I react to the natural details of the wood.  It might take the form of an inlaid butterfly key, which acts to hold to sides of a crack together.  Or it might be how I preserved a rotted area of the wood by filling it with resin, making that part of the wood useful, when most would have scrapped it for firewood.  In some of my other designs, like my Mendo Bench, you can see the fingerprints of the craftsman in the carefully carved details of the legs and how each part visually “flows” into the next.

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The stories about the beginning of something often give insight into its character – What got you started as a furniture craftsman? How did that start shape who you are today?

My start as a craftsman began while I was finishing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies.  A break from school just before graduating, paired with being a poor newlywed, gave me an opportunity to try working with my hands and creating the furniture for my home with my new wife.  I quickly fell in love with the act of creating, and the closeness I had with the materials that would eventually find the form as something practical and useful.  I couldn’t ignore my new love and took a left turn after graduating and pursued a life of creating functional art.

I found my artistic voice by creating, over and over again, until there was a common theme to my work.  But while I was high on enthusiasm during the early years, it was a struggle to sell my work and find customers.  I had to work my tail off to make my creative business work and I developed a survival mentality during those early years that motivated me to do my best work, quickly.  This way of working has continued on, even now.  I am so blessed to get to make a living working with my hands and creating my best work for an appreciative audience.

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