Seven local creatives who are working wonders with wood
By sculpting and carving, turning and chiselling, these artisans are producing furniture, art and homeware that's as memorable as it is collectable
For many, the allure of wood lies in its palpable natural qualities, the way it wears, its grain, its diverse colouration and even its unique abnormalities.
This is certainly true of seven creatives featured here who allow themselves to be guided by this material to produce pieces that are memorable and collectible.
“My hands are my most valuable tools,” says Anne Hodgson. Having left a corporate job — “sitting in front of a computer all day and processing mass produced, cheaply made plastic products” — she leapt in the opposite direction and taught herself to carve.
If you were a spoon, you’d have hit the Lotto to be one of Hodgson's Grain Spoons (produced for the Zeitz Mocaa museum shop) with their wonderful rotund, organic form and their visibly marked surfaces, recounting her every scoop with the hand chisel.
These finely finished but highly tactile everyday objects she produces, from spoons and boards to knives, make the case for elevating what is deemed the daily “mundane” to art.
Having inherited an underutilised lathe from his late father, Roy Gibbs picked up his skills from peers in the field and from years of trial and error. His particular niche is in turning and his pieces are laden with beautiful natural imperfections, which bring expression to his wooden vessels.
With wood sourced from the Wits Woodworking Association, or from felled trees via neighbours or his own farm in Hartebeespoort, the old trees, nearing the end of their lives, present limitless opportunities. “The many holes and crevices in the more rotten ones add character and produce sculptural effects in my vessels,” he says.
Sensuously curved, dexterously hollowed and complete with inherent gnarled cavities, his vessels, with no intended daily function, are things of beauty to be enjoyed and appreciated.
ABRIE VON WIELLIGH AND NORMAN MEYER
Abrie von Wielligh and Norman Meyer are the carpentry and joining duo behind the George-based brand Meyer Von Wielligh.
Their practice is fundamentally inspired by nature with a desire to celebrate the unique, natural qualities of each piece of wood they hand pick. Their collectible works in particular speak of their wild and untamed surrounds and of the forests where these trees once grew.
Their latest limited-edition furniture collection, Two Oceans, takes its cue from the rough and unpredictable seas near George, embodying the crests of unruly waves on the surface of a sideboard, a shelf and a cupboard. Each of these pieces reveals meticulously hand-carved hollows that show off the team’s bent for achieving magnificent texture.
Their pieces have successfully captured global attention through their presence at fairs such as Design Miami, Christie’s London and Design Days Dubai.
Adam Birch’s seats have a primal quality to them that drives home their natural origins. By allowing each tree to guide him in its form and silhouette, he honours its unique, organic makeup.
As an established tree surgeon and environmentalist, Adam’s trunk-to-twig approach means that every part of the tree is used before he is left with the often-unwanted fork. Once left with the fork, he carves his sculptural, expressive seating, allowing the tree’s natural expression to be revealed.
In addition, he cuts down only alien species and uses only fallen trees for his indigenous wood supply.
His work has garnered critical acclaim, has been sold at Anthropologie and features at countless luxury game lodges.
SCHALK VAN NIEKERK
“I don’t impose on the timber and the timber doesn’t impose on me,” Schalk van Niekerk explains, citing wood as a medium that’s living, warm to the touch and beautifully fragranced.
Chiefly, he wants to be guided by the wood he turns, seeing this dance of creation as a form of symbiosis. Turning, he feels, presents limitless possibilities to explore shape, form and texture, albeit with his characteristically dialled-down approach.
Markedly minimalist, his pieces channel a Scandi simplicity, where the only embellishment comes in the form of surface texture. His new Fluted collection is no different: clean-lined and vertically orientated, it’s intentionally reminiscent of trees growing in a plantation.
That he began his love affair with woodworking on sailing boats from childhood is no surprise since Andrew Dominic’s collections all possess an inherently curvaceous expression.
With sensuous form and silky, smooth finishing, his tables, chairs, cabinets and other storage solutions are at once elegant yet also understated and capable of sitting well in contemporary environments.
Whether it’s his instantly recognisable Draper stools, undeniably handsome Noah cabinet or voluptuous Eve table, they all underscore his knack for instilling flow and movement into what are largely static items.
“Like classic yachts, my work is a balance of curves in the right places, strength and functionality,” he says.
These days he lives in Devon with workshops there and here in SA.