Chip off the old block.
Article taken from: THE WEEKLY REVIEW
Written by: Jo Davy
Peter Bollington, Elliot Gorham and Jarlath Weingott are decades younger than the people normally associated with the art of fine woodworking.
“Little old men with white beards seem to be the ones that generally gravitate towards this line of work,” says Weingott, at 39, the oldest of the group.
The three professional furniture-designers are looking to change that image with the launch of Handsome & Co school of fine woodworking and design in Richmond this month.
“We secretly want more young people to come into woodworking,” Gorham says. “Design students in particular produce some really funky designs because they’re looking at all the new stuff that’s out there for inspiration. But that’s not to say we won’t take the old bearded fellows … we’ll take anybody.”
Anybody, that is, interested in learning the traditional and modern woodworking techniques required to design and make fine furniture.
From this month, the trio will run woodworking classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings. Students at any skill level can enrol on a term-by-term basis with fees starting at $555 for 10 three-hour sessions.
The trio met as students at Australian National University in Canberra, each coming from different design worlds.
Gorham bounced around the ANU’s School of Art for a while before discovering a passion for furniture design. “My background is really a little bit mixed in the creative realm, so my work is heavily influenced from that to be highly conceptual,” he says.
For Bollington, professional roots in interior design mean that design is also a major factor in his projects.
Weingott, meanwhile, left school at 17 to take up cabinet-making and was on his second round of studies at ANU when he met Bollington and Gorham.
After university, all three found themselves in Melbourne working on different projects but facing the same problem.
“The thing is, our background isn’t really trade-oriented, so it’s not like we can very easily translate these woodwork and design skills into money,” Gorham says.
Weingott elaborates: “We don’t have a place in construction, carpenters don’t want to employ us, cabinet-makers don’t want us because we don’t have those trade skills.
“Anybody that’s operating a design-and-make business in the way we have been trained or with the skills we’ve developed is basically a one-man operation.”
Gorham established his design-and-make furniture business, Noddy Boffin, about 12 months ago while Bollington and Weingott are in the process of establishing their own start-ups.
The trio wanted to create their own space where they could operate their respective businesses while feeding off each other’s creativity.
Gorham says: “The school really came about because there is so much interest and enthusiasm for woodworking, and it will subsidise the cost of the workshop where we can have these residencies and creative people doing new and exciting things.”
To accommodate both student and master woodworkers, half of their Lincoln Street warehouse has been set up as a practical classroom, while the other half houses heavy machinery and workbenches for residents.
Gorham would also like to dedicate part of the workshop to an exhibition space.
“We want to be encouraging people to come in and see what we’re doing,” he says.
“That’s the real difference between us and other schools of woodworking; they’re all very closed and you don’t see into them unless you’re a part of them.”
The three men agree Melbourne is a particularly good city to bring more obscure creative pursuits into the public arena.
Weingott says: “Everybody has their own style in Melbourne. You go to Brunswick and everybody is into that whole retro, recycled look, and then maybe more over Prahran way everybody is into more slick, European stuff.”
Whatever your aesthetic, he says, handmade creations are a rarity. “Europe and Asia are just churning all this stuff out for us to buy and the art of actually making anything by hand is dying.”
Gorham is in two minds about the introduction of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) tools to the industry. “On the one hand I want to say, stick with the hand skills and CNC is rubbish, but you can’t ignore it … we don’t want to get left behind.”
This means looking into ways they can provide professional accreditation to students while striking a balance between traditional and modern machinery.
They are looking to the past to shape the school’s curriculum by introducing short courses on specialised areas of traditional fine craftsmanship.
Tool-making, green wood craft, screen printing, ceramics, and metal-working are all possible short courses, with the idea of bringing specialist tutors to conduct intensive classes over two or three days.
However, for these craftsmen, timber will always be their first love.
Bollington, the quietest member of the group, sums it up perfectly. “If you’re dealing with metals or synthetics or plastics or whatever, it’s like just a man-made, static product. Timber has a life and a story of its own, and we’re reinterpreting that story into a product.”