Sunday, April 12, 2009

PROFILE: David Hurwitz, Wood Artist

by Rob Hitzig
This profile is an edited version of an interview in several parts on Rob Hitzig's blog, Wood is Art.

Of all the artist/craft careers, studio furniture maker has to be the hardest. The combined struggles of mastering the craft of woodworking, developing original designs, maintaining a fully equipped studio, and marketing a product that will cost many times more than other similarly functioning objects are at least as great as any other discipline. Having made furniture as a hobbyist, I have a good sense of what goes into making furniture with traditional joinery and I know that these artists are lucky to be making a living wage. There just isn't any way around the fact that making fine furniture takes an enormous amount of time. On top of this, just about every schmuck with a table saw has a romantic dream of living in the woods and making furniture for a living; as a result, the competition is extremely stiff.

With the knowledge of these difficulties, I always appreciate seeing people getting recognition and being on the cusp of making a name for themselves, perhaps even being able to make a reasonable income. Randolph, Vermont artist David Hurwitz is just such a person. As a professional furniture maker since 1988 and self-employed since 1993, David recently had two of his solo pieces, along with two collaborations with stone sculptor Kerry Furlani, (see one image at left) featured in Lark Books new publication "500 Tables". I thought it was a good time to interview him (before he became too famous and/or busy) to get a better sense of the origins of his work and to highlight what others could learn from his experiences.

David has a knack for creating lightness and movement with big, thick pieces of wood. He has developed a style that is unique and identifiable as his own -- an important trait in trying to make a name for oneself. The work also seems to be as much sculpture as it is furniture.

David first learned woodworking in a 1st grade woodshop where they taught hand tools. Although he has learned and enjoys many other media, including metal, glass (blowing), jewelery, and concrete, he has returned to wood because at some point there isn't enough time to learn it all and it is better to master one than be mediocre in many.

Hurwitz feels that clients get his best work when they give him basic criteria related to how the item should function and then give him broad artistic license. Also, he truly enjoys commissions that push him to do something he hasn't done before. He finds most individual clients are good about giving him the freedom to create but he has noticed that when dealing with professionals (e.g., interior designers) the end product can sometimes be adversely affected by the "too-many-hands-in-the-pot" syndrome. The lesson being, if you are going to hire David (or any other studio furniture maker) because you like their work and their designs, you are more likely to get a great product if you give them design freedom.

David said that, without a doubt, his best career move was moving to Vermont. He has found that it has provided him with a number of good marketing opportunities because there is a focused effort to promote wood products and he hasn't seen the same level of organization in other places that he has worked.

As far as his worst decisions are concerned, he said he felt they were more learning experiences than mistakes. These lessons include:

Be prepared for shows -- the first time David did a crafts show he was ill-prepared with marketing materials and bad lighting. After studying what others were doing, he has since been much better prepared for subsequent shows.

It is important to talk to other craft artists to avoid making mistakes they have made, such as always having a signed contract before beginning work on a project.

Don't put work in distant galleries with an unproven sales record. David had a bad experience with a gallery about 500 miles away in that they weren't able to sell any of his work; it was a major hassle to get work down there and pick it up; they damaged all of the pieces; and they used his table tops as very elaborate pedestals for other work - rather than leaving them clear as works of art on their own. From this experience he learned to be selective.

Some of the designs David is still using were developed years ago while living in suburban surroundings that didn't match his head space. By living and working in Vermont, he feels that his headspace now matches his surrounding environment. That's important for any artist.