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   terry          Arbus console

       Terry Bostwick                           Andre' Arbus redesigned console

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             wood and steel table                                                       Vg fir and steel slab table
                                                
      

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game table close  game table open

Quilted maple game table


dinning room table and chairs tb

Quilted maple dining room table and chairs

dinning room table tb

 

Watch a slide show on Terry's process building this table 


When and why did you start your career in woodworking?

This wasn't planned. I actually studied Fine Art at San Francisco State University, Painting Drawing and Sculpture. But in my first year of college I was at a junior College in the Bay Area and they had a beautiful wood shop. I was young and very interested in learning everything, still am I guess. But no one knew anything about woodworking they just had this big shop with no teachers or classes. I asked what was up, I wanted to learn - they handed me the key and said don't hurt yourself. First thing I did was hurt myself after turning on the table saw...kickback, it hurt! But I guess I wasn't to be deterred, I went right back at it (the teachers just said be careful and let me back in there...times were different then). Mainly I just scrunched things together, never heard of the word 'joinery', except with the Hari Krishna's. There were no books, no Fine Woodworking Magazine, no classes....no YouTube.

 

Today we call what I was doing DIY, then we called it macramé - I even sheared sheep, carded, spun my own wool, and made my own hand spindle and weaving looms (I learned from some Navajos on the reservation in Utah). This was 1970. Ever hear of the first Renaissance Faire in Marin County? Beaulines (Bolinas) Art Guild?

 

After moving to SF State I was given a unique opportunity. They had an Industrial Arts program, but that was for weird geeky guys with short hair and khaki pants, which played with electronic glue guns you, had to keep away from your mid section if you wanted to have kids one day. I was an art student, combat boots and Goodwill shirts two sizes too small, and some thought I should get a haircut - we were very different animals. We both were both smug and cocky with our knowledge of life and how it should work, I mean these were the times when some of us were battling S.I. Hayakawa, and listening to Angela Davis...you might get the idea. But then the ID dept head asked a guy named Arthur Espenet Carpenter to come over and teach a class that was a combination of 6 ID students and 6 Art students - stick it in the blender and see what comes out. The first couple of days we all just circled around each other, pretending like those other guys weren't actually there. I have to say the ID students really did know their stuff in the shop; it was run like a barracks, shit, they knew what a drill press was! But they didn't have a clue how to create something. We on the other hand were full of airy fairy ideas, but not a clue how to build it. 

 

We had a blast - Carpenter was great, he made them be creative, he made me make sure it stayed together. Everyone produced amazing stuff and we all had a great time together - many of the ID students went on to become very well known woodworkers in  Northern California. Art Carpenter was a very influential woodworker who started the Bolinas Guild, sad to say he is no longer with us. Between him and Sam Maloof we California woodworkers made some beautiful and interesting stuff through the 70's. Art continued for many years to be a resource for me when things occasionally fell apart and I couldn't figure out why. Sam was also an inspiration as well while I was learning in those early years; they both were fresh and new in those days when 'plastic' ruled. 

 

I am the only one of the art students who carried on, I think anyway, but then it was only for fun. My true love was painting and sculpture. It wasn't until 1978 or so that I started seriously buying equipment and making furniture for a living, I wasn't selling my paintings, people bought my furniture - I think I made $1.50 an hour!. But my furniture designs were less function, more sculptural even then. That was always my interest in woodworking - as sculpture. I moved to Oregon in 1977.

 

 

What would be your advice to someone wanting a career in studio furniture?

Don't. Do it for fun, get a real job.

 

 

How much are your clients involved in the design and wood choice in your work?

It varies. In the early years here in Oregon I worked with designers and architects, so was primarily doing copies of their desired pieces. It was good experience but very difficult because they always wanted cheap and perfect. Their designs were merely trend based and the most I got out of it was experience, which was very important actually. I did a lot of cabinetry to keep the money coming in, it was all a rat race with extreme time pressures and little money because I was always competing with beginners who worked for nothing....that never changes. And then the only satisfaction I got was learning how to work with clients making very high end cabinetry and occasionally a nice piece of furniture. It's still the same business.

 

As for wood selection in those days it was mostly what they wanted. I certainly made suggestions but it is primarily trend based with most people...70's and 80's - Birch/Red Oak/Eastern Walnut...90's - Cherry/Mahogany/Maple, that sort of thing.

 

In the late 80's and early 90's I broke free of all that designer stuff and was working primarily with clients directly. I began to have more influence on wood choices and eventually design as well. I had enough experience and knowledge to be much more creative. By the early 90's I was mostly making furniture, mid 90's I made a big choice. No more cabinetry, no more stock trendy designs. With a very strong interest in historical architecture and furniture design through the ages, I committed myself to building a very unique portfolio, unlike anyone else's work - no Shaker stuff, no Craftsman style, no Memphis, no Post Modern. My interest from the beginning was as sculpture and unique design, so I committed to a long term effort at developing my unique look. What you see at my website reflects a small selection of work, both commissioned and speculative, since 1995.  

 

I went to Marylhurst University in the early 90's and studied Interior Design, and in particular a rigorous study of furniture history. That had a significant impact on my knowledge, and an even bigger impact on my designs from that point on. Why I choose to make the things I do, looking like they do, has a lot to do with the reasons our furniture ancestors made the choices they did - but I am a bit irreverent and full of irony. The anthropology of the times that those designs happened was more significant then, people designed things because it fit a need, or fit a lifestyle.  For example in the 17th and 18th Century women wore gowns with huge hoop skirts, they couldn't sit anywhere so a special stool like chair was designed for them to straddle and perch on when they needed to rest at the ball (of course the masses didn't wear those gowns, but then they didn't have furniture either) - all of that is fascinating to me. I think today there is much less reasoning about furniture design, mostly just following whatever trend the media is interested in. Although right at the moment furniture design is based on budget, and styling is more 50's retro - I find that part lazy, not fully developed or thoughtful. It's time once things get moving again for new innovation, it's missing. I'm hoping the next generation will find some balances between excellent craftsmanship and innovative styling.

 

It was all my ideas and my wood choices (with respect for my clients input, but they were more adventuresome and wanted to see new work, that's why they came to me in the first place). Also I began using other materials like metals (mainly forged and mangled steel), but also copper and silver, upholstery used in unusual ways as well. I began playing with unusual and experimental finishes. I played with milkpaint way back in the mid 80's, but also shellacs and graphite coloration. Color, wood, details, embellishments are chosen to fit the design for that particular piece. Wood does not inspire the design, the design asks for a careful selection of materials.

 

A lot of experimentation, wood became a distant interest, even a necessary evil because you have to sand it and sand it and sand it....but I never lost sight of its inherent beauty. But my choices were always whether the wood fit my design intention, sometimes beautiful wood wasn't important at all. 

 

 

Do you make all your veneers or only on certain applications?

No, only rarely do I make my own veneers. Learning traditional veneer technique in the early 90's opened me up to some amazing design opportunities. Prior to that I was forced to use plywood from local dealers or have stuff laid up for me and that was way too expensive and never suited my picky demands. At the beginning of my own veneer work I used Dietrich Veneers, very nice to work with but I was frustrated with the quality of the lay ups, for most people they have nice veneer. So I learned how to do my own. It is extremely time consuming to do it right - but my work seemed to demand it. Mostly I buy my veneers from around the country and Canada, depending on finding what I am looking for. I use Certainly wood in NY a lot; also B&B Rare Woods has some beautiful stuff as well. Depends on the wood and my working relationship with the people at the dealers, they have to be very accommodating and have good photos. 

 

 

What is the advantage of shop made veneers?

The advantage is that I can't find what I want for the project mainly, but sometimes a special client understands they can get something very special if I find some very special boards and slice it up. The thickness is of course a plus; handmade is much thicker, less prone to splitting because I control the process. Unless the pieces are very small I don't do it myself. I use Creative Woodworking in Portland; they do a fantastic job for me. But the cost of handmade veneers is far more in all respects than buying ready made flitches, so that is a major factor in making that kind of choice. 

 

 

How has technology helped/improved your work?

Ah, the technology. My determination to create a unique portfolio was not going to be limited to woodworking technique alone. In fact I really have never had much interest in 'technique'. I know that most woodworkers love the process, it is why they do it, and they have a lot of fun learning joinery and such. They choose to make a piece of furniture based on the opportunity to use joinery techniques and beautiful wood. Truth be known, I could care less about such things, I only learned all of that because I had to make high quality work. But like wood choices, technique has nothing to do with my designs. I have made a concerted effort for almost 40 years to avoid dovetails...blasphemy I know. That is not what makes a piece well designed, unless it is demanded for the design. I remember way back in the late 70's I was an assistant to a guy named Bob Shimobukuru at Oregon College of Art and Craft who was the first woodworking instructor there. He was pretty good about it all, I was pretty insistent even then being a sculptor - but he was insistent that I at least learn proper technique and learn how to do it well. After he left I was assistant to Sam Bush, who was the first to fully develop the wood program there. Sam was a traditionalist...you might guess his response to my attitude, we went around. But in spite of my attitude I learned a lot from Sam, he was an excellent technician and insistent I learn so that I could teach the students properly. No regrets. But I still don't get excited about dovetails.

 

Back to process. What I found was that I can't do everything. What I found was that there are those out there who take a lot of pride in doing things very well but also know how to use current technology. CNC, digital programming (drawing), laser cutting, water jet cutting. I learned how to weld so I could sculpt with steel, which I could do. But the other stuff, I could learn it, sure, but I found those who were masters at it and wanted to work with me to be collaborators on my unusual projects were already doing it and they have the equipment. What I learned was that with their help I could make things I could never have dreamed of doing prior to this kind of technology and their help. But you have to be selective; most people are only interested in making a buck, be careful. It matters when they not only can guide me in my ideas but offer new ones to add to the mix. It's a lot of fun, the results can be extraordinary. But watch out for geeky guys with short hair and khaki pants.


Terry Bostwick
West Linn, OR

 

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