One of the common questions I get is about who influenced me as a woodworker? Was it Sam Maloof, Tage Frid, James Krenov? Well sure, they all had an inspirational impact on me as I discovered the world of fine woodworking, their work is legendary.
But that really is sort of the problem for me. Even when they were alive, the stories seemed to be no different to me than the stories I read about Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or the Greene & Greene brothers and the Hall bothers who built their furniture. It all seemed too distant to me. It was all out of reach.
The people that had the largest impact on me, were craftsmen that I personally met. I talked with them, they shook my hand, they personally told me stories of their life as a furniture maker. Those are the people that lit the fire in me, and moved me to action, because I knew they were real and they made it seem to be within my reach to be a fine woodworker.
One of those people was Gary Keener. I had met him at a couple of shows in Columbus, Ohio. He was a super nice guy, and he gave me a little of his time to tell me about his work and life as a craftsman. He really made an impression on me for his generosity, which was on top of his great design and quality of work.
Later, in January 2006, I was visiting the newly restored Frank Lloyd Wright - Westcott House in Springfield, OH and found out that the furniture had been reproduced by a local craftsman by the name of Gary Keener. Of course, after discovering that he had built the furniture for the Westcott House, I had to call him out on that offer he made in our early conversations to "stop by and visit anytime."
Once again, he was very generous with his time by giving me a tour of his shop, sharing his philosophy of the craft, and how he got started. This is what impacts me more than whatever I read about the legendary furniture makers, because Gary was REAL to me. If he was doing it without being a celebrity woodworker, then there was hope for me to do it too.
We had only ever kept light contact over the years, but then he popped up on my Instagram account just a few days ago.
Then, the next day, I found Gary was the cover story on The Woodshop News. So it was neat to all of a sudden run into him again, so to speak.
Gary is still doing the high-end furniture shows to display his work and make business connections. This weekend, March 13 - 15 he will be in Atlanta at the Cobb Galleria for the American Craft Council show. So if you are in the area, be sure to check it out and say "Hi" to Gary.
If you are in Atlanta this weekend, March 13 - 15 and are interested in fine woodworking, I recommend you check out the show. You can see his show schedule at his site and the next one will be in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show April 10 - 12.
Woodworking shows are fun to attend, but I would prefer to attend a show like the American Craft Council, the Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show, or the Western Design Conference. The high caliber of work is always stunning. Plus you get to meet the artisans and you will be inspired them just as I was by Gary.
Your friend in the shop,
Todd A. Clippinger
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