We’re interviewing makers from all 50 states. Today we’re featuring Aspen Golann, an artist and furniture maker from Massachusetts.
How did you get started woodworking? Who were your mentors?
I didn’t start woodworking until a few months before my 30th birthday. I have always been an artist and a maker but never a woodworker and certainly not a furniture maker. I did take a few functional sculpture classes in college which were really eye-opening for me, but nothing that dealt with hardwood or joinery. My commitment to woodworking began when I enrolled at The North Bennet Street School in Boston, MA back in 2018. I wanted total immersion in traditional techniques and I got it! I figured if I learned how to design and make things from raw materials and with hand tools, then I could make anything I wanted. NBSS is all about traditional skills – dovetails, curved veneers, acanthus leaves, handplanes, Windsor chairs, etc. I arrived not knowing what a handplane was and left with a powerful skill set, strong community of makers, and amazing mentors. I met my first real mentor, Peter Galbert, the famed Windsor chair maker, while I was in school. After I graduated I had the privilege of working out of his shop in NH for a few months. Working alongside a maker like Pete was inspirational and provided me with an extended education in woodworking techniques. After school I’ve been able to cultivate an incredible network of weirdos & nerds who support and inspire my work – artists, historians, restorers, architects, timber framers, toolmakers, and of course other furniture and object makers.
What do you think is your best or favorite work? What kind of work do you do the most?
I think my best pieces are the ones that ride the line between traditional furniture and conceptual sculpture. I like to be playful with traditional forms! I love appropriating iconic American furniture forms and incorporating contemporary imagery using enameled glass, marquetry and inlay. I blend forms and imagery to turn cabinets into chest cavities, clock movements into hearts, and chair backs into reclining torsos with faces and arms. The result is work that blurs the line between furniture and figure sculpture.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to start woodworking or pursue it as a profession?
1. Try to cultivate a variety of craft communities – there are a number of schools and shops where you can take classes, do residencies, meet makers, develop skills and collaborate.
2. Allow your personal interests and identities manifest in your designs. I try to let my background in art and my experiences as a minority in the field sneak into my work – I think that allowing my pieces to be personal makes them stand out.
3. Keep pushing yourself! I’m trained as a traditional maker so it is essential that I continue to develop my own design sense outside of the mandates of tradition, and that I hold on to who I am as a maker. I try to let my traditional training guide and bolster my work, but I don’t let it completely define me.
What’s your best hands-on tip or woodworking technique?
My favorite woodworking technique is an old-school hand tool rounding technique called the 5/7 rule. I learned it in school but haven’t seen any articles or videos on it, which is surprising because it’s amazing! All you have to do is create a simple system of lines on square stock that allow you to cut and shape your way to perfectly round and symmetrical shapes that taper and twist in any way you can imagine. I use the 5/7 rule constantly – really any time that the shaping is too complex or dangerous for a router bit.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout-out or recommend we follow? Who inspires you? (Doesn’t have to be woodworking related, either.)
A workshop of our own – a woodshop for women and non-binary makers in Baltimore MD
Evan Berding – just amazing original work inspired by traditional forms
Yuri Kobayashi is doing the wildest things with steam bent wood. Elegant and obsessive and stretching the boundaries of the medium.
Arcburn Furniture – traditional wooden furniture in steel!
Eleanor Anderson – beautiful and whimsical fiber artist! I love her work
Bern Chandley – smart and elegant updates to traditional windsor chair designs
Ellie Richards – Pure joy and whimsy expressed in wooden objects