by Linda Rosengarten
On California’s Mendocino coast, you really never know who you are talking to by looking. Institutional “costume” doesn’t fly around here, so it is not always easy to tell who belongs into which socially recognizable box. So, when you first look at Ejler Hjorth-Westh, with his aw-shucks overalls and his outsized signature beard, you can be pretty sure that his appearance is deceiving.
Ejler was raised on a farm in Denmark, and still considers himself a farm boy at heart. He studied religion (to Ejler, a study in religion was a study in philosophy) and biology in college, has a teaching degree in biology, is a boatbuilder who fishes the chilly Pacific waters near his home in Elk, Calif., a dedicated vegetable gardener, a big reader, an interpreter of post-modernism, a well-recognized furniture maker and an instructor in fine woodworking at the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, Calif.
Although Ejler readily shares his passion for woodworking and for living life both fully and with intention, he is slow to reveal his depth of thought. Furniture making is not only work and craft, it is for Ejler a pursuit in bringing together his delight in nature and kinship with history and philosophy into usable forms.
Like many professional woodworkers and artisans, his is a home-based business, a little cottage industry. Ejler actually lives in a house a few feet away from his shop with his wife, Karen.
The shop is populated with just about everything a busy woodworker could ever want, including a good feel and a place for building boats. This shop is like a TARDIS structure from “Doctor Who” – seemingly larger on the inside than out.
The shop looks like a regular barn from the outside: big doors, tools for yard work and supplies stacked and leaning against it. Inside, though, this outbuilding expands into a two-wing split level, a haven for woodworkers, postulants and guests.
Wood is stacked everywhere. Jigs and patterns for chair arms and other shapes hang from beams and rafters. There is a tool for everything, including a wood encased circa 1883 Silver band saw, as well as a sturdy, rotund wood-burning stove and pieces of furniture on various benches and hanging from the walls. How does all this fit in there? Who knows – perhaps it’s magic.
Web site: Find out more about the College of the Redwoods, where Ejler Hjorst-Westh teaches woodworking.
Web site: See more of Ejler’s work.
Web site: Read more from the author on the Hock Tools web site.
“Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery,” by Oscar Fitzgerald.
From the August 2014 issue, #212