Randolph Woodworker Getting National Attention

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Arts / Jul. 20, 2006 12:00am EDT

By Gus Howe Johnson

Randolph Woodworker Getting National Attention By Gus Howe Johnson

David Hurvitz of Randolph is beginning to reach a national and even international market from his woodworking and carving studio in Randolph. (Herald photo / Tim Calabro)David Hurvitz of Randolph is beginning to reach a national and even international market from his woodworking and carving studio in Randolph. (Herald photo / Tim Calabro)

When you hold a piece of wood, what does it tell you?

Artist, designer and wood craftsman David Hurwitz of Randolph has been hooked on woodworking since the first grade when he was taught to use hand tools and chisel. He didn’t take his own interest seriously until 1988 when he’d completed two years of a mechanical engineering major at college. "It wasn’t hands-on enough for me," he said, and switched to a four-year program on woodworking and furniture design at the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This program included hands on work with wood furniture and hand tools. At the same time he did a two-year independent study in sculpture and tried other mediums such as cast aluminum, concrete, and bronze.

Since 1993 Hurwitz has been building his own business and along the way he worked in cabinetmaking and architectural woodworking shops. For the past three years he has been based in Randolph, working in space rented by the White River Craft Center. His favorite part of the job is creative designing, coming up with ideas.

Nearly all of his work has carving in it. "I am lucky to be able to make a living doing what I enjoy," Hurwitz said. Hurwitz builds pieces on speculation, coming up with an idea intending that it be sold in a gallery, and also does custom work.

"The custom projects usually start with the customer’s needs or parameters and they often refer to another piece I’ve made, or a particular style," Hurwitz said. After the initial meeting he completes a half dozen sketches to show the client and get feedback. An estimate quote is suggested up front, and they discuss budget restrictions. "I’ve learned to only show sketches of work I want to do so I won’t risk them choosing a design I don’t want to do."

Hurwitz’ approach to custom projects has transitioned from making projects completely according to what the customer requested to requiring an element of freedom to be able to put himself into it. This is more fun for him, and he is happier with the outcome.

His style, inspired in part by sculptures, Dr. Seuss, the Jetsons and other cartoons, usually involves curves and smooth angles, which, when carved into solid wood, creates an interesting strength vs softness effect. The resulting product is a useful item that is very pleasing to the eye and the senses.

SIDEBAR:

Vt. Promotes Wood Products

This year Hurwitz’ won the first place award in the woodenware category in the "Fine Furniture and Wood Products Design Competition" for his unique spoons and spatulas. The spoons, both useful and artistic, are made with choice leftover pieces from other projects of cherry or other wood.

"I design them so they are comfortable to hold in the hand, they are mini sculptures, the wood is carved and somewhat ergonomically correct. I play with different forms. I can make a spoon in an hour, they are fun to work on from time to time."

His spoons sell for $70-75 each and make great Christmas gifts.

The competition was funded this year by part of a $1-million grant arranged by U.S. Sen. James Jeffords specifically to promote Vermont wood products.

The Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association is administering the funds over a two-year period on industry initiatives that will benefit all wood producers, said Kathleen Wanner of the VWMA. The initiatives include:

• A showcase and design competition;

• Seminars on marketing;

• A furniture and wood products festival;

• Establishing a new "heritage trail," with open studio concept, along with a tour guidebook of factories and woodshops that encourage visitors;

• A partnership with Cabot to produce an internet-based buyers guide;

• Two trade shows in 2006 offering display space to members at a reduced rate. The Las Vegas Marketplace will feature a Vermont Pavilion with 2000 square feet of space and the Providence Fine Furniture Show will have a 1200 square foot pavilion of Vermont wood products.

Another effort is to get furniture and wood products placed into lodging facilities such as inns and bed and breakfast facilities, "so tourists will see and appreciate Vermont wood products as part of their stay here."

The Design competition Hurwitz participated in is special, Wanner said, as it highlights both design and workmanship.

"This year for first time we were able to print a book with a page for each winner, featuring their products, funded by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation," Wanner said. Categories for wood products include: turnings (bowls), woodenware, furniture, and architectural items such as cabinets, trim and doors.

Marketing & Exposure

Running his own business involves a lot more than just the woodworking. Marketing, for instance. He does his own advertising, has printed up his own postcards featuring different products. His pieces are displayed at craft shows, galleries, and on the internet.

"When I put my work in a gallery they customarily take 40-50% of the sale," Hurwitz said. Galleries, he said, "set the standard" for pricing, and give him a lot of exposure, as does the internet. Technology makes it easier to do business," he noted. For example, Hurwitz used to send out costly slides of his products; now he can send a digital image by email to dozens of potential customers.

His work is listed on five or six web sites, including his own, trade sites for interior designers and architects, and a few gallery sites. One catalog and web site, guild.com, invited him to choose two of his carved wood products to display and list, including a funky Shaker hall table, and an Elroy end table, named for its resemblance to the spaceship on the Jetsons. Herwitz’ "taffy mirror" which features a unique ripple carved frame, has been included in a design book on furniture design.

"This is pretty upscale exposure and the catalogs bring me steady business," Herwitz said. Prices on his products range from tables $880, mirrors $850, table lamp $525, to a Shaker table at $1900.

"The result of internet galleries is that I’ve been shipping work all over the country for the past two years," Hurwitz said. In the past year, he’s shipped products to Hawaii, California, Minnesota and North Carolina. He is also designing a bed for a customer in England.

Recently he’s begun collaborating with Kerry O Furlani, a stone sculptor in Rutland who works with Vermont slate or marble.

"We’re hoping to collaborate with combining stone and wood in pieces such as tables, cabinets, other items," Hurwitz said. "This is really exciting."

His current goal is to find better galleries and venues that specialize in furniture sales, not just pretty displays.

"I put my heart into my wood carvings. These wood products need to be where people who will appreciate them, will see them and be able to make them their own."

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