Carving out functional art

Woodworker Kevin Reiswig assembles a headboard made from reclaimed lumber from Port Townsend. Reiswig will show the headboard during the 13th annual Woodworkers Show on Nov. 3-4.

On the day Kevin Reiswig unloaded a truck full of belongings after a long trip from the Midwest to settle in Port Townsend, the annual Woodworkers Show took place.

One year later, Reiswig will join his peers when he showcases what he has been working on since he first set his eyes on the Olympic Peninsula.

Along with Lacy Carnahan and Rebecca Welti, Reiswig will be a newcomer to the Nov. 3-4 show at the American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St., but Reiswig is a veteran when it comes to making art from shapeless wood. Reiswig's style is to piece together and form reclaimed pieces of wood for a functional, elegant result.

Reiswig works on commission and builds to specifications, harnessing his inspiration and building beautiful pieces of art for his clients.

“I try not to think of furniture and sculpture much differently,” he said. “I approach them with the same sensitivity and thoughtfulness.”

He said artists use their pieces to reflect their own experiences and the world around them in a meaningful and provocative way.

“They just serve different functions,” he said.

In his shop, Reiswig displays lamp shades, a headboard, end pieces and a coat rack. With each piece, he strives to keep the woodgrain apparent to keep its rustic aesthetic.

“We're living in the age of Ikea in a way,” Reiswig said. “We're surrounding ourselves with disposable furniture, and I believe the environment that we exist in affects our psyche and soul in a way that maybe is not always apparent.

“The environment that we build for ourselves impacts our well-being. Bringing the natural world into people's homes and seeing how it can inspire them in their everyday lives is important for me.”

Natural forms

Reiswig received his formal training at the College of Wooster in Ohio and worked as an artist in Chicago for several years. His background mostly is in sculptural work, incorporating the abstract with “natural forms” inspired by the wood and pushing the material's limits.

When he moved to Chicago, he worked with waste material he found in construction trash bins and abandoned properties.

Since he left the Windy City, his drive to shape material that was once alive continues. Now, he uses the remains of trees instead of what can be found in a damp alleyway.

Reiswig still strives to cut costs wherever possible. He uses “virgin materials” that could have lain at someone's shed for years, or by a sidewalk, waiting for a new home. One piece in particular came from the remnants of a sequoia tree that fell during a storm. He reclaimed the wood and turned it into a bed for one of the youngest members of the family that planted the tree.

"I try to use material that is meaningful for my clients, whether by locally sourced material or salvaged material from their home,” Reiswig said. “I'm really inspired by that process.”

Natural fit

Reiswig and his wife, Alex Chebuhar, found their way to Port Townsend after they inherited a home. They were looking for a place where there was more exposure to the natural environment, such as mountain ranges and moving waters.

Reiswig said the change in location, from deciduous trees and more rapid season changes to the pine of the Pacific Northwest, comes with an extra dose of inspiration.

“This place really fits that goal,” he said. “We both feel more alive and more inspired in a place with a lot of green.”

Hands-on experience

Reiswig always has built functional pieces from wood. When he was 11, he built chicken coops and nesting boxes for his family's chickens. He also helped to build homes for Habitat for Humanity when he was in fourth grade. His parents and family friends, whom he saw as talented in their own respects, encouraged him through his formative years.

Reiswig also worked with metal, but most of his products came from his hands-on woodwork, where he stretched the medium to its limits.

“I still try to bring that attitude to my work today, in terms of progressing the work to see what's possible,” he said.

What comes out of his work is as a culmination of all his experiences, plus forms and patterns from nature he's found inspiring. He said the Woodworkers Show will be a way for the public to experience those inspirations.

"Before in my life, I have been around a lot of people who are mystified by my work and don't know how it's made," he said. "Here, the scrutiny is higher. It's inspiring to make even better work and really earn my spot among the deep-rooted community of artisans.”

'Youthful energy'

Tim Lawson, who organizes the Woodworkers Show and is a member of The Splinter Group, praised Reiswig's skills and youthful energy.

“To me, it's an exploration of form that we've not seen before,” Lawson said. “(Reiswig's work) amplifies and expands what we were already presenting at the show. It gives greater depth.”

Lawson added each show is “radically different,” giving attendees a thrill each year with its high standard and diversity of artisans.

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