Wood Stories Newsletter
Why a newsletter?
I moved to Ann Arbor in 2014 and started building furniture in my brother’s garage. Since then, I’ve always had a steady stream of exciting commissions – often from repeat customers. Thank you.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to wonder just how long this good fortune will last by doing nothing to drum up business.
Enter Christine Brown.
She and her husband, Jerry Davis, are at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and my most recent clients. Christy, a professor of Marketing very kindly offered to look at my (non-existent) marketing plan. She very quickly observed that since all my business comes from referrals, you are the people I should aim my marketing efforts at, and that a gentle, nonaggressive way to stay in contact with you is through a quarterly newsletter attached to an email.
So, please don’t see this as a plea for more work (although it is always welcome), but more as a seasonal reminder that I’m out here collaborating with great clients like you, and perhaps you might recommend me to a friend.
From the unreliable vantage point of the first issue, I imagine future newsletters might include some personal news if it’s appropriate; perhaps something about my working process. Certainly, I will share some works in progress along with my most recently completed pieces. Maybe I’ll include a portrait of a client with whom I’m collaborating, or one of my recent customer testimonials.
If you know of anyone who might like to receive these newsletters, please let me know and I’ll add them to the mailing list. Please tell me if you don’t want to get these …or just ignore them. (They’re quarterly.) I don’t know how to add an unsubscribe button.
Unveiling The Detroit Bookshelf
Christie Brown and Jerry Davis recently held an open house to introduce my latest commission to friends and neighbors. Christie and Jerry have an amazing loft apartment in the old Willy's Overland factory (the original Jeep) overlooking downtown Detroit. They asked me to design an 'artistic bookshelf' to compliment the space. The solution was almost too obvious: Let's make a bookshelf that copies the streets of central Detroit and trim it using reclaimed timber from an old Detroit building.
I found this map of old Detroit and adapted it to hold books.
This is Christie and Jerry's view of downtown from their loft balcony.
A Farewell to Rivling
In 1992, my wife and I bought 5 acres and 2 derelict barns at the foot of Whernside – the highest fell in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the UK. Slowly, we began turning them into workshops for my furniture and Jane’s sculpture.
Starting on dirt floors, an outdoor privy and fetching water from the deep-cut beck that gave Rivling its name, I began my experiments in finding a contemporary response to the North-of-England rural tradition that informed the Arts & Crafts movement.
Failures in bending wood led to this
I mostly failed. (Using sheep’s blood as a wood stain was not a winning idea.) My attempts to bend wood ended in so many broken sticks that I finally said, “Fuck it. I’ll just make a broken table!” This led to some conceptual puns based on the Shaker tradition. These were fun, but I eventually realized that being clever was just a cheap way of avoiding the real work of learning to trust my intuition and accept it for all its quirks and flaws.
A later piece built at Rivling
"A Shaker Reproduction"
Jane got the barns in our divorce, which was fortunate because all the magic that you see in these photos is a result of her efforts. Recently, she decided that Rivling was just too much for one aging woman to maintain and sold up. This summer I helped Jane and our son pack up the last of their belongings. We each had a quiet, tearful farewell and drove off. A piece of my heart remains.
My First Workshop
A Testimonial: The Salem Dining Table
We had seen some of Walt’s work and approached him about making a dining room table for us. We did not have a clear idea of what we wanted. Walt spent the time to work through several different designs and approaches with us. We decided to start by selecting a beautiful piece of wood for the top and the design evolved as a collaborative process from there. Walt set up the giant slab of walnut on saw horses in our dining room and we were able to make decisions right there about size, shape, thickness, and the design of the base. We continued to “visit” the table in Walt’s workshop at each phase helping to refine the design to our taste. Although we have no doubt Walt would have created a beautiful table with much less involvement on our part, this was a wonderful process. Somehow, although we didn’t have a clear vision when we started, we ended up with exactly what we wanted and felt a part of the creative process. We could not be happier with the table.
Debby Salem & Marc Zimmerman