A.L. Swanson Gallery
Describe your first experience with woodworking.
grew up in a small farming community on the coast of Maine, and my
father had a decent wood shop in the barn. I would, on occasion, sneak
in and use the tools to make picture frames and cutting boards as gifts.
I had no training up to that point and am quite lucky I still have all
of my digits...
How have you overcome the challenge of working in a rural area?
in a rural area certainly has its challenges, but it also has its share
of benefits. I have lived in Helena, Montana now for 11 years and
though it is a small city (50k), our new studio / gallery sits in the
very heart of it. That being said, the exposure we have to city
residents and plenty of tourists alike is a major asset. However, to
truly be successful in this business, there cannot be any barriers
between product and client. Savvy marketing techniques, a web presence
and super high quality work allows you to put up shop anywhere - I have a
beautiful view of the northern Rockies out my window...
What is your training?
Living in New England for 30 years allowed me to be exposed to some of
the finest cabinetmakers in the business. As I developed my talent, I
was quite fortunate to have been mentored by some of these very folks -
further learning the baseline fundamentals of building heirloom pieces.
Of course I learned much on my own as well. When one is truly passionate
about something, they will seek all means to master what it is they
wish to do - I was no different.
Where do you get your designs?
was exposed to the Shakers and their works at an early age. Their
aesthetic played a large role in my direction. I loved the simple forms,
clean lines and complex joinery - this is evident in much of the work
we make today. I have a solid understanding of lumber and how it needs
to be worked. I will often let the grain; color and size of a particular
board guide ultimately guide me to a particular design - especially
some of the amazing quilted maple I procure from Northwest Timber.
Though this material speaks for itself, coupled with a unique design and
solid construction, it will be touched and enjoyed by someone for many
years to come.
Who/what has been the biggest influence on your work?
there have been and still are many influential woodworkers out there, I
don't feel especially influenced by any one person. Rather, my largest
influence is all of the people that collect our furniture - especially
the looks on their faces when they receive a piece that I poured much of
me in to. I must say though, that working alongside Gary Rogowski in my Helena studio last summer, was truly a joy...
What has been your biggest asset for your woodworking career?
feel that it takes many assets to keep a company alive - especially
during these unique economic times. You need to stay limber and be
willing to change along with your market. We have done just that. I work
very well with those willing to invest in our pieces. Being sharp and
charismatic can go a long way, but building furniture of uncompromising
quality ourselves and teaching others to do the same is our strongest
element. Merely bringing your product to the people
isn't strong enough anymore. But, bringing those people to your process
is key. We recently built a new gallery for our work that is separated
by three large sound-proof glass panels, that looks directly into our
studio. We can now engage people like never before -
their commission is being created right in front of them. However, many
are opting to join us in the shop to create a piece of their very own.
With our expert guidance, this has proven to be quite successful and
extremely rewarding to all...