From Redwoods to Red Brick
Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney: Ruler of Ancient Rules
by Cathrine O. Frank
At burnHeart, in a converted textile mill on the banks of Maine’s Saco River, Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney rifles through a box of stainless steel “lady legs” (a.k.a. “Dancing Master” calipers) that were laser cut in a shop up the road. Overhead, lengths of Maine maple share space with other local woods that will become the Krenov-style cabinet he’s finally begun or the standard edition of his sought-after line of rules.
“To have a business where I can go to the guy who cut down the tree, and then speak individually with every person buying them and make the thing myself is such a nice, complete picture of making things,” he says. If it’s a picture that taps into the vogue for holistic approaches to production, independent business models and, of course, craft, it also marks the junction of Gaffney’s diverse experiences.
The DIY Student
Making things is second nature to Gaffney, whose family includes an artist, poet, weaver and woodworker. “We’ve had a woodshop my whole life,” he says. This thanks to his dad who, before finding a career in advertising, worked “all sorts of funny jobs” across Staten Island, including a stint in a puppet shop. “I grew up around people making things,” Gaffney says. “That was always going to be some angle of what I was interested in doing.”
After high school, Gaffney attended Skidmore College where, true to form, he designed his own major in “Sound,” bringing art, physics, neuroscience and computer science to the study of music. In his master’s work in computer science at the University of California, San Diego, he worked on programming and designing both physical and digital musical instruments. “I’ve always had this idea that whatever it is I’m going to be studying, I want to be making it,” he says. Opportunities were not lacking: He built analog synthesizers and worked as the “wood guy” for the San Diego Fablab, a community fabrication space.