June 11 2019

Upon first look, one might think you’re seeing manufactured wood pieces, screws, and gears all put together to form furniture. But look again. Take it all in. With James Pearce’s woodwork, he actually designs, creates, forms, shapes, and cuts every single piece of wood making up his unique and interactive furniture. That means that if you see an oversized “woodscrew”, James has created it. From scratch. That’s part of what makes his work stand out, as evidenced by “The Wharton Esherick Museum Prize for Excellence in Wood” which Pearce took home at last year’s Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.

For James, the path to becoming a fine craftsman in wood took a circuitous route. A fourth generation woodworker, he was admittedly reluctant to make a career of it. James grew up in the shop helping his dad, and his dad in turn taught him the fundamentals of woodworking. It was fun, but the previous generations were doing architectural, millwork, and cabinetry work, which didn’t really appeal to James. As a young man, he joined the army, where he became a diesel mechanic. It was the mechanical aspect of things that he liked, but not working with diesel. When he finally had the “aha moment”, James discovered there was a way to merge his fascination for mechanical work with his passion for woodworking. It wasn’t always easy, but with great determination, 15 years later James has built his business, his clientele, and his amazing furniture that he will be bringing to the PMA Craft Show this November.

When he began the path towards fine craft furniture, James had all the woodworking basics. Through many shop hours of experimenting, designing, creating, and of course the fine art of trial and error, he took it to the next level. “I am a thinker when it comes to designing my pieces”, says James. “I visualize all the details down to color and finish in my mind before starting a piece and there are always design changes during the actual crafting to ensure the desired aesthetic.”

The wood screws are made on tools that James created specifically for the process. “My work is inspired by vintage industrial mechanical machines”, says Pearce. “My goal is to translate something into a nontraditional medium and have it be fully functional. Most times I don’t know if the piece will work until it is completely finished. My work is very interactive. The viewer needs to touch, feel, and be part of it to understand what is happening.”

James speaks highly of his time at The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. “The overall quality of the exhibiting artists are among the best I’ve seen”, he says. “Philly is one of my favorite towns and everyone involved in making the show a success for the artists are fantastic. It is always an honor to receive an award and to receive an award that is so specific to my craft in the name of such an iconic studio furniture maker is an even bigger honor.”

There is a whimsical aspect to some of Pearce’s work. Take “Wanda” for instance. Inspired by industrial compressors, James describes this as a “one-off”. He began naming some of his pieces after spending so much time with them and realizing they developed their own personalities. James’s work can be found in corporate collections, businesses, residences, and one piece was even purchased by playwright Stephen Sondheim. Recognizing his unique and talents, James was also commissioned to create an interactive “gear wall” installation at The Magic House Children’s Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

We asked James what advice he would give someone just starting out. “Push your craft farther”, he says. “I always try to make my next piece better by exploring new ways, finishes, and mechanisms. I don’t ever want my work to become stale.” The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the Pearce family, as two of James’s sisters are wood shop teachers. Considering James is a 4th generation woodworker and the oldest of six kids, it’s no wonder his parents are proud of him for staying in the field. They’ve even bought his furniture for their own home. Now that’s the kind of full circle we like to hear.

Stop by James’s booth at the 2019 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and check out his unique and interactive furniture!

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April 04 2017

Steve Noggle, a woodturner from North Carolina, has over 40 years of experience working with wood. He has been a timber cruiser and furniture industry engineer; currently he owns and operates his own studio. His work can be found in galleries throughout North Carolina and Tennessee.

How do you go about picking a piece of wood? Is there a time of day or season that is best?

The best season to get logs is the winter when sap is low, creating less water in the tree. In these conditions, there are fewer problems with cracking deformity, especially when you carve a bowl. However, I get logs year-round because most wood that I use I don’t find in nature. Because I’ve been in the industry for years, individuals seek me out to sell me logs. If that didn’t happen, it would take me forever to search for the right kind of piece. In addition to logs, I also use burls, which is the growth deformity that you see on sides of trees.

The kind of wood I like to work with best are from the local maple, walnut, and cherry trees that are in the big woods in my area (North Carolina), although maple is my favorite. Eucalyptus wood from Australia is nice to work with as well as it is highly textured, has cool colors, and is highly figured.

Are there different logs for different pieces?

When I first started, I used my local wood since I wasn’t too familiar with what made wood pretty; I would take anything I could get my hands on. At the time, I wasn’t working with logs, but instead thick flat boards to make shallow pieces.  

After I moved onto logs - well the sky’s the limit! You can make both tall and deep bowls. The biggest difference when making bowls out of logs is that the bowl is going to deform, since it dries unevenly on different sides. These pieces are called “natural edge bowls,” so it’s okay that this occurs. When the piece is finished (after sitting for a week to dry) it deforms somewhat. It’ll move in one direction over the other. It’s okay because this gives the bowl an organic, natural effect.

What is the name of the machine you are using in some of the pictures? How does that help the process?

The lathe is a machine that constantly rotates the piece I am working on so I can shape it more accurately. It moves the piece at speeds of 500-600 rpm.

The tailstock is a tool that tightens the piece against the other end by turning the handle. When it’s tight, I turn my tool rest on and the wood starts spinning. Simultaneous to the piece is spinning, I am quickly carving it to form the bowl’s initial shape. I form the outside of the piece, which determines what the inside will look like. Since all my pieces follow the same contour, these first steps are essential to the piece's success.

What about cutting - are there different methods for cutting that lead to different types of bowls?

If you want to make a piece kind of round you should use a chainsaw while cutting. The chainsaw is used before the lathe, which is a machine that allows me to shape a piece more accurately.

How long is the selecting and initial cutting process?

I can’t tell anything from just looking at a tree, but I can tell a lot when it’s in log form. The sellers send me a photo from the end of the log after a fresh cut, and I can tell everything I need to know: color texture, grain - really anything that would be pertinent to my work.

How long does that process take?

I probably spend a half hour or more cutting up a piece in the yard and studying it before making the first cut. After the piece goes on the lathe; depending on the size, it could take anywhere from an hour to almost three hours to properly carve. After this is complete, the bowl dries for about a week before it undergoes sanding and other finishing touches.

How do you know when it’s done?

The sanding process is the final step. I start at 80 grit (which is coarseness of the sandpaper) then go up to 320 grit, which is a power sand. After the 320 grit, it’s ready to be oiled. I hand rub multiple coats of tung oil (drying oil); typically, it takes three days of applying one coat per day. After that third coat, it’s ready!

What is your approach each day?

I do a little of everything each day. This morning I cut three big chunks out, which took an hour and a half. I’m going to make big salad bowls out of them. I won’t do any more today- the chainsaw can be exhausting. The lathe is much easier to physically operate although the dexterity can be tricky. I’ll do lathe work and then I’ll do some sanding.

Do you do anything else outside of your studio?

I co-own a co-op gallery called Ariel Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina. I work there three days a month and the other 12 co-owners also work there three days a month year-round. Other than that, I work on my craft every day. I have worked in eight or nine galleries and I do about six or so shows a year.

Learn more about Steve Noggle by visiting his website or checking out his recent segment on Carolina Impact

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October 07 2015

2015 Craft Show artist Phil Gautreau is an award-winning Brooklyn-based woodworker who specializes in hand-turned wood bowls and vases and serving boards made from visually unique domestic and exotic woods. We asked him what inspires him about his medium of choice.

How did you start working with wood? What drew you to this medium?

Growing up in New England, woodworking became a hobby that I picked up from my Dad. He’s an original do-it-yourselfer still living in the house designed and built by my grandfather. My Dad and I worked on projects in our woodshop and it was through his example I learned a simple concept: “build and repair,” rather than “discard and replace.” That’s also where I discovered the complexities and the tactile beauty of wood, and where I developed my artistic instinct to make functional pieces.

About 10 years ago, in the throes of a successful career in healthcare management, I started taking woodworking classes. It was infectious—I really loved the freedom to design and create something with my hands! Eventually, I was spending more weekends in the shop and my skills improved, and so a few years ago, right around my 50th birthday, after some careful planning, I decided to swap my wingtips for work boots and start my own woodworking business. It was time to return to what had become my new passion: making things with wood.

How does your material inspire your process?

My creative process starts by sourcing the wood. Part of what makes this experience so gratifying is re-imagining raw wood, whether from a large tree limb or pieces of discarded floor planks from a local residential renovation, and transforming it into an artistic and functional piece.

Over the years, I’ve developed working relationships with many local organizations to acquire wood that’s considered at the end of its useful life. A great example of this is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The 52-acre park is over 100 years old and is located in the heart of Brooklyn, only a few miles from my shop. When trees are damaged from storms or need trimming as a result of age, I work with their arborists to determine if any sections can be salvaged for use in my bowls and vases. I’m happy when these materials are used and then returned as finished pieces for their Gift Shop.

I also work extensively with local wood salvage stores to source items that would otherwise have been discarded. The advantage of using these materials is to prolong the useful life of the wood by upcycling it into a new useable piece.

In all cases, my designs incorporate wood imperfections, rather than eliminating them. I craft each piece by carefully carving away layers to reveal the unique character of each piece. The result is something contemporary, sophisticated and organic.

Tell us about any challenges associated with and special considerations for working with wood.

Woodturning on a lathe involves spinning a chunk of wood at high speeds. It takes a broad knowledge of wood characteristics, an understanding of the how to safely use a lathe, and proper hand tool techniques. So, let’s just say it takes practice! Once the exterior bowl is shaped and the interior is hollowed, the bowl is sanded smooth. It’s also dangerous, so it’s important to learn and practice slowly.

What has surprised you about your own work, and/or people's reactions to it?

I produce custom-designed furniture on a commission basis, working directly with interior designers and one-on-one with customers. Many of these pieces are made from locally-sourced wood and retain a natural edge, many times incorporating my own hand-turned wooden legs or metal bases.

Ultimately, my customers appreciate finely crafted wood products with a story. They’re not looking for a mass-produced bowl, cutting board or piece of furniture. They want to know the origin of the materials and how and where it’s made. Having the story behind each piece lets them embrace it as their own.

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October 30 2014

(Photo: Wooden bowls by Phil Gautreau, $200)

Craft collectors know the price of the work they buy reflects the time, effort and expertise of artists who have spent their lives learning the special qualities of their medium, and the cost of using the finest materials, often organic or rare.  But you have to start somewhere, so we’ve put together a list for new collectors of Craft Show artists offering select pieces under $200. You can also visit Craft U to see the work of young and emerging artists from Moore College of Art & Design, Kutztown University, University of the Arts and SCAD.

Collectors at the Craft Show can meet the artists, learn their history and stories, and talk with them about their inspirations and the techniques they use to create their one-of-a-kind works.  An under-$200 purchase today can lead to a lifetime relationship with an artist and the beautiful objects they create.

Fiber Arts

Elyse Allen

Ignatius Creegan

Marla F. Duran

Diane Harty

Wence and Sandra Martinz  

Amy Nguyen

Jeung-Hwa Park


Nicole Aquillano

Theresa Chang

Paveen Chunhaswasdikul

Alexandra Geller

Will Swanson


David Paul Bacharach

Kaminer Hailsip

Robert Rickard


Josh Bernbaum

Raj Komminei

Mihh Martin

Decorative Fiber

Ann Brauer

Jewelry (Precious and Semi-Precious)

Desiree Delong

Kathleen L. Dustin

Melissa Schmidt

Dejan Jovanovic

Ken Loeber and Dona Look

Susan Mahlstedt

Youngjoo Yoo


Phil Gautreau

Ray Jones

Michael D. Mode

Steve L. Noggle

Norm Sartorius

Holly Tornheim








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October 28 2014

We continue our blog series celebrating the power and beauty of handmade objects, titled “The Best Craft I Ever Bought.”  In this series, creative and passionate Philadelphians tell us the stories behind the craft objects they’ve welcomed into their lives and what the objects mean to them.

Jenea Robinson is the media relations manager at Visit Philadelphia. She’s a proud graduate of Howard University and has worked in many areas of public relations from pharma to fashion. Besides counting down the days until the release of the next Hunger Games movie, she enjoys writing poetry and trying to convince her friends to leave Brooklyn and move to Philadelphia.

I think I chose the hottest day in 2007 to move to Philadelphia. Fresh out of college, I packed up all of my clothes and old textbooks (because every professional knows that you’ll need to refer to your old Intro To Public Relations book on your first job) and made my way to the City of Brotherly Love to become a tax-paying member of society. To be honest, I was scared out of my mind. I had no friends or family in the city, but I finally had the opportunity to use my degree so to West Philadelphia I went.

I intended to spend most of my free time decorating my new apartment. My fanciful décor plans were obviously very attainable, now that I had real job. I would buy a super cute vintage couch. Find an amazing deal on antique lamps. Start building my art collection. Perhaps purchase some grown up pots and pans. Oh, and make sure my apartment smelled like lavender at all times.

And then, I received my first paycheck. I sat in the middle of my couch-less living room floor and sobbed dramatically over my pay stub. How was I supposed to buy abstract art and a vintage couch on an entry-level salary? Two weeks later, I map-quested my way to the particleboard furniture outlet to furnish my first apartment like a normal 22-year-old. My place was full of furniture with names I couldn’t pronounce and my kitchen was stocked with dollar store frying pans. While I was grateful for what I had, I still longed for something original — something that hundreds of other people didn’t already own.

On one of my many getting-to-know-the-city journeys, I stumbled upon a little place in Society Hill that sold handmade South American sculptures, art and jewelry. One day the doors were open and a flood of bright, bold colors drew me in. I immediately fell in love with a collection of Peruvian sculptures way out of my price range.

That’s when I spotted the smallest piece in the bunch—a hand-painted wooden candleholder. There was something about the tribal colors, the artistry and practicality that caught my eye. It felt like it was made with love, by someone who truly cared about creating something beautiful.  It was also small enough to fit in my cubby-sized apartment and it happened to match all of my new furniture. I had to have it. I didn’t eat lunch a few days that week but I survived.

It was such a great feeling to go home every day and see that little candleholder on my table. The owners even threw in a multicolored candle for free — still burning strong seven years later.

At that point in my life, it was important for me to own something with a story. Artists possess the power to move you with their work and I believe that there is a great tale behind the pieces they create. You never forget the feeling you get when you find a piece that speaks to you. Whenever I look at my candleholder, I remember who I was the day I bought it, and who I am now.  I’ve come a long way, and this beautiful little work of art has come with me.

Visit the 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art Crafts Show emerging artists category to discover new artists. 

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October 08 2014

Adam Crowell is a wood artist currently based in South Carolina. He creates melodic percussion instruments that are part functional art and part musical instrument. Charleston Magazine says of Crowell: “Combining his love of percussion and a lifelong knack for handiwork encouraged by his father, a hobbyist carpenter, the local musician and woodworker sculpts melodic African tongue drums that blend rhythm and song into a single artful percussion piece. Crafted with unstained exotic woods such as African mahogany, Brazilian cherry, Canary, and purpleheart, his six-, 10-, and 12-note boxed drums have caught the attentions of both percussionists and art aficionados.” Read more about the artist from the American Craft Council, The Post and Courier and the Woodworker’s Journal.

What first interested you in working in your medium?
I built my first drum for myself while working as a musician in Los Angeles. I wanted something new to play and, with woodworking guidance from my father, I built it myself. A few other percussionists wanted something similar, and I wound up making a few drum sales. When I realized that I could turn my passion into a career, I spent every free moment prototyping and refining my instruments until I had built up enough product and credibility to officially launch Boxed Music.

What is special about the medium you work with? How does it inform the work you create? 
The thing that's most unique about wood is also its greatest cause for frustration. No matter how well acquainted I am with a specific type of wood, I have to refine the process every time based on knots, wormholes and swirling grain. Wood is a fickle medium, but it's the challenge that makes the outcome so special.

What do you love about your workspace? 
My shop just outside Charleston, S.C., is in an industrial park -- a neat little cluster of businesses with everything from an Italian ice company to cabinetmakers to a private gym. Since Boxed Music consists of just me and my administrative assistant, an American dingo named Bonnie, it's nice to work within a community. Plus, I've got 1,500 square feet of space where I can generate as much sawdust as I want.  

What was your inspiration for a recent piece?
I wanted a functional piece of art that could be enjoyed by a single person or shared by a group, so I invented an instrument called the Wenzi. The Wenzi consists of three separate drums --a rhythmic high, a rhythmic low and a melody -- all displayed in a sleek, sculptural stand. Wenzi means "company" in Swahili.

You can preview the work of the 2013 award winner for best artist new to the show here. See more of Adam’s work on his website at boxedmusicdrums.com.

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September 02 2014

We continue our blog series celebrating the power and beauty of handmade objects, titled “The Best Craft I Ever Bought.”  In this series, creative and passionate Philadelphians tell us the stories behind the craft objects they’ve welcomed into their lives and what the objects mean to them.

In this post, Garth Johnson, Curator of Artistic Programs at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, shares a secret: his favorite craft isn’t ceramic. A writer, educator and artist, Garth has taught at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif. Georgia State University, Columbus State University and Golden West College. His first book, 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse, was published in 2009. His artwork has been shown nationally and internationally, including a solo exhibition at The Clay Studio in 2009 and the group exhibition “Horizon – Landscapes, Ceramics and Print” at the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design in Oslo, Norway. His work can be found at www.theothergarth.com.

My clay friends and my co-workers at The Clay Studio might be surprised by my choice of the “Best Craft I Ever Bought.” Even though I have pottery and ceramic sculptures by some of the greatest masters in the field, my favorite craft is a crude painted wood carving of Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert’s sweaters that stands about eight inches high.

The painted wood sculpture of Ernie and Bert’s sweaters standing together on a small plinth is iconic—just a glance by anyone the least bit familiar with Sesame Street creates instant recognition. In fact, my 2-year old daughter connected the sculpture with Ernie and Bert after only seeing them on YouTube a couple of times.

Even though the sculpture was a bit out of my price range at the time, I knew I had to have it. I had first met the artist, Sean Samoheyl, in the mid-aughts when I was living in Atlanta, Georgia and writing frequently for my blog, ExtremeCraft.com. Sean, who lives and works at the Twin Oaks commune in central Virginia, found out about my blog and sent me a link to some images of his work. He makes eccentric, raggedy carved wood sculptures and fantastic puppets. Over the past few years, Sean has embraced “traditional” woodworking techniques and has a chair-making business that painstakingly crafts rockers with delicate spindles and bentwood arms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being “haunted” by images and objects. This might be the object in my life that haunts me the most. I’ve always been a person who derives feelings from things, and I spend a lot of time chasing those feelings in words, excited conversations or through my own art.

Not to get all introspective and cerebral, but there’s a powerful sense of absence in this sculpture…of loss even. Sure, Ernie and Bert are literally absent here, but I’m even a little bit haunted by Ernie and Bert’s presence. Their ambiguous relationship has been the subject of intense analysis (and projection) over the years. There’s something in this simple sculpture that evokes generations of closeted relationships to me. Maybe it’s just the way I tend to over-analyze and connect things, but a part of me always thinks of the AIDS epidemic—which if you think of it, would have squarely hit men like Ernie and Bert, who came of age in the ‘70s.

Sean’s sculpture is everything I value in craft. Of course I value workmanship, but I put the power of vision above all else. On the surface, the Ernie and Bert sculpture is whimsical. My 2-year old certainly likes to look at it and talk to it. I bring a lot of baggage to my relationship with the sculpture—all of us bring baggage to the crafted objects we interact with on a daily basis. Can a favorite craft object be “difficult” or even a little bit sad? I’d like to think so.

Visit the 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art Crafts Show Wood category and Ceramics category to see the original hand-made objects in these mediums available from our 2014 artists. 

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April 26 2013

Artist Mark Nantz starts with wood. But then he encases the vessel, or integrates it, with materials such as ebony or precious metals to create exquisite containers that are an aesthetic delight. No wonder he received the Wharton Esherick Museum Prize For Excellence In Wood at the 2012 Craft Show.   “With every piece I make, my goal is for it to be clearly identifiable as my own and flawlessly executed,” says Mark. See his impressive galleries here.

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