Back in 2009, I quit my cozy job in marketing with the lofty plan of making furniture. I remember explaining to my boss how I desperately wanted to “work with my hands” — a mighty notion to a white-collar worker, albeit vague and romanticized. At night, I sketched my ideas in broad strokes, unacquainted with the details of joinery, material or proportions. By day, I admired images of graceful tables while hunched over my laptop in a creaky office chair.
I moved to Maine thereafter to take a twelve-week intensive course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I toiled for weeks on my first project, a modest step stool, and although I was steadily absorbing a fresh set of skills, I grew discouraged by the lack of tangible progress. But one day, snap! The stool clamped together squarely and I was able to appreciate its joinery, material and proportions — the very details I had once overlooked. And I haven't looked back since.
While at school, I shared my experience on my bygone blog, Woodlearner. That August, I was hired as the woodworking columnist for Apartment Therapy, an interior design blog with three million monthly readers. For my weekly column WoodWise, I wrote about the basics (lumber, joinery, tools) and my newfound know-how and chronicled the thorough process of setting up my own workshop. When the smoke and mirrors cleared, I almost knew what I was talking about.
More recently, I went west to Fort Bragg, California to attend the renowned Fine Furniture program at the College of the Redwoods, its royal faculty loyally carrying on the work of storied maker James Krenov. There I laid a sturdier foundation by building my own tools and enhancing my hand skills. I gained respect for my material and a greater understanding of its temperamental nature. As Krenov writes in A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, too many woodworkers are “looking for new ideas rather than at the wood itself.” In practice, this simple notion is quite transformative.
Since returning to my shop in Connecticut, I've continued to craft one-off commissions while steadily building my business. Late last year, JAW Woodshop was named a finalist in Martha Stewart's American Made Awards, a nationwide competition honoring makers of artisanal goods. Call it the Martha bump or the Stewart surge — ever since the contest began interest has spiked and new doors are opening. As 2014 came to a close, I was invited to exhibit as part of the American Craft Council's inaugural "Hip Pop" program, designed to promote emerging artists in fine crafts. And to cap it off, I'm coming full circle this summer when I begin a studio fellowship at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I'm working hard to become a better maker and sharpening my chisels for a big year ahead. Like dovetails cut by hand, it's slowly coming together.
Be happy in your work.
Johnny A. Williams, February '15
- College of the Redwoods, Fine Woodworking Program, Fort Bragg, CA (2011-12)
- Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, 12 Week Intensive, Rockport, ME (2009)
- New York University, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York, NY (2002-2006)
- American Craft Council Show, Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD (Group, 2015)
- "A Tree Just Wants To Be A Tree", Weathered Way Gallery, Newtown, CT (Solo, 2013)
- College of the Redwoods Spring Exhibition, Highlight Gallery, Mendocino, CA (Group, 2012)
- College of the Redwoods Mid-Winter Exhibition, Town Hall, Fort Bragg, CA (Group, 2012)
- Studio Fellowship, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Rockport, ME (2015)
- Sam and Alfreda Maloof Scholarship, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass, CO (2015)
- Professional Development Grant, The Furniture Society, Durham, NC (2015)
- Workshop Scholarship, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Rockport, ME (2015)
- American Craft Council "Hip Pop" Emerging Artist (2015)
- Martha Stewart American Made Design Finalist (2014)
- Inaugural Artist Grant, Newtown Cultural Arts Commission, Newtown, CT (2013)
- James Krenov Memorial Scholarship, Fort Bragg, CA (2012)
A big red barn is where I spend most of my days. Built in 1944 as an egg store for the Clark family chicken farm, it slowly fell into disrepair. After a three-month renovation, it now houses a woodshop and upstairs, my Mum’s gallery called Weathered Way. She specializes in vintage home decor, fine art and of course, my furniture.
Currently, Weathered Way is by appointment only. To schedule a visit, please click here.