Woodworking in America: Aspen Golann

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We are interviewing producers from all 50 states. Today we introduce Aspen Golann, a Massachusetts artist and furniture maker.

How did you start working with wood? Who were your mentors?
I started working with wood just a few months before my 30th birthday. I have always been an artist and a manufacturer but never a carpenter and certainly not a furniture manufacturer. I took a few functional sculpting courses in college that really opened my eyes, but nothing related to hardwood or woodworking. My commitment to woodworking began when I enrolled at North Bennet Street School in Boston, MA in 2018. I wanted total immersion in traditional techniques and I got it! I thought that if I had learned to design and make things from raw materials and with manual tools, I could have made everything I wanted. NBSS is all about traditional skills: dovetails, curved veneers, acanthus leaves, airplanes, Windsor chairs, etc. I arrived without knowing what a handplane was and I am left with a powerful skill set, a strong community of producers and fantastic mentors. I met my first real mentor, Peter Galbert, the famous Windsor chair manufacturer, while I was in school. After graduation, I had the privilege of working in his shop in NH for a few months. Working alongside a producer like Pete was an inspiration and provided me with extensive training in woodworking techniques. After school I was able to cultivate an incredible network of weirdos and nerds who support and inspire my work: artists, historians, restorers, architects, framers, tool makers and, of course, other furniture and object makers.

What do you think is your best or favorite job? What kind of work do you do the most?
I think my best pieces are the ones that straddle the line between traditional furniture and conceptual sculpture. I love playing with traditional shapes! I love to appropriate the iconic shapes of American furniture and incorporate contemporary images using enameled glass, inlays and inlays. I combine shapes and images to transform lockers into chest cavities, clock movements into hearts, and chair backs into reclining torsos with faces and arms. The result is a work that blurs the boundary between furniture and figure sculpture.

What advice would you give to those who want to start woodworking or take it up as a profession?
1. Try to cultivate a variety of craft communities: There are a number of schools and shops where you can take classes, do residencies, meet producers, develop skills and collaborate.
2. Allow your personal interests and identities to manifest in your projects. I try to let my artistic background and my experiences as a minority in the field sneak into my work – I think allowing my pieces to be personal makes them stand out.
3. Keep pushing yourself! I am trained as a traditional manufacturer, so it is essential that I continue to develop my sense of design outside the mandates of tradition and that I keep who I am as a manufacturer. I try to let my traditional training guide and strengthen my work, but I don’t allow myself to be completely defined.

What’s your best practical advice or woodworking technique?
My favorite woodworking technique is an old school hand tool rounding technique called the 5/7 rule. I learned it in school but didn’t see any articles or videos about it which is amazing because it’s great! All you need to do is create a simple squared stock line system that allows you to cut and shape your way of perfectly round and symmetrical shapes that taper and twist in any way you can imagine. I constantly use the 5/7 rule, whenever modeling is too complex or dangerous for a router tip.

Is there anyone you would like to shout out or would you recommend following? Who inspires you? (It doesn’t even have to be related to woodworking.)
Our own workshop – a woodworking workshop for women and non-binary manufacturers in Baltimore MD
Evan Berding – simply amazing original work inspired by traditional shapes
Yuri Kobayashi is doing the wildest things with steam bent wood. Elegant and obsessive and pushes the boundaries of the medium.
Arcburn Furniture – Traditional Steel Wood Furniture!
Eleanor Anderson – beautiful and extravagant fiber artist! I love his job
Bern Chandley: Smart and elegant updates to traditional Windsor chair designs
Ellie Richards – Pure joy and imagination expressed in wooden objects

See more of Aspen’s work on her website or on Instagram @aspen_golann

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