For some people, these are catchy slogans on a social media meme. For others, they are New Year’s resolutions. For woodworker Mark Thomas, they are normal aspects of everyday living. The “Good Life” to which many aspire is not an unreachable dream, requiring complicated formulas and collections of inspirational marketing materials, but rather, it comes about through quiet times in nature, good times with friends, awareness and appreciation for small, ordinary things.
“These things help slow life down,” the Walla Walla artist says.
“I like making things with my hands, including food. Most of the cooking in my household is done by me, and I own quite a few cookbooks.
“I have no formal training, and am not necessarily a good cook, but I enjoy it. I like making utensils that feel good to use, and perform well.”
And therein lays the impetus behind, and inspiration for, Thomas’s hand-crafted, fine art, naturally-based, utilitarian items made from wood: spoons, spatulas, boxes, small furniture pieces, jewelry, phone docks, and kale/herb strippers, this latter one of Thomas’s more enduring and endearing best sellers.
“I’m not sure why,” he confesses. “Perhaps it is because people love kitchen gadgets and hate picking the leaves off of cilantro. It is the only item that I sit and down and make in large batches.”
Working from a studio that consists of half a two-car garage plus a spare room office in the house, Thomas uses the skills he learned as a fine artist — he holds a degree from Wright State University in Dayton, OH — to design ergonomic, comfortable to grasp items that are pleasing in shape, color, and feel. Each piece is as individual as the wood from which it is made, and a successfully finished artwork requires patience, skill, and acumen on the part of its creator.
“Working with a natural material can always be tricky,” Thomas says.
“Since a piece of wood was once a living, growing tree, no two pieces of wood are alike: this forces the craftsman to take special care when using hand tools. A moment of inattention or hurry can ruin a piece.”
At the same time, he adds, the very individuality of the wood inspires the artist to seek out its beauties and strengths.
Although Thomas has harvested and seasoned wood for use, he prefers to spend his time actively working the wood, and to this end, shops locally at Jensen Hardwoods in Walla Walla. Maple, cherry, and walnut are favorite choices for his kitchenware, all of which are finished by a customized recipe he created from sesame oil and beeswax, this last sourced from Octopus Garden Honey in Dayton, WA. Hours of research and multiple small batches resulted in a finish cream that not only protects the woodwork, but makes the hands happy as well.
“Using the finish seems to keep my hands tough and calloused without being rough, scratchy, or leathery,” Thomas says.
“I cannot vouch for any medicinal properties of sesame oil or beeswax, but I have had numerous cancer patients say that it is the best thing they have found for treating the rashes on their hands from chemo.”
During the warmer months, Thomas shows and sells his work at the downtown Walla Walla Farmers Market, as well as the Richland Farmers Market on the Parkway. He also travels to craft shows in the Tri-Cities, Portland, Seattle and Spokane.
Describing his creative process as “rather varied,” Thomas explains that he is constantly trying new ideas, developing different designs, gently teasing new shapes and forms from the inspiration of each wood’s highly individual grain. The result is not just another spoon, but a spoon like no other spoon on earth. It is as individual as the person wielding it.
“I believe that finely handcrafted objects and the use of natural materials are important,” Thomas says.
“The work itself is very honest, and the finished objects tell the story of what the craftsman put into them.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit the gallery today!