Popular Woodworking in America: An Interview with Alf Sharp
After a brief tenure in law school at Vanderbilt University, Alf Sharp decided the white collar world was not for him. His woodworking career began with some simple remodeling for a landlord in lieu of rent, which led to doing interior trim work and simple cabinetry, and teaching himself fine woodworking through books and experimentation. Now, Alf is recognized as one of America’s premier period furniture makers, and was honored in 2008 with the Cartouche Award from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM).
Alf will be teaching “A Simplified French Polish” at Popular Woodworking in America, September 16-18 in Northern Kentucky. You can register here.
You are essentially self-taught in woodworking (through books and experimentation), but you’re now a sought-after educator in the field. What do you consider to be the benefits of learning one-on-one?
I’ve said for a long time that, though I wouldn’t trade anything for the invigorating process of being self-taught, a week spent with a master is worth months and months of trial-and-error on your own. Nothing beats being shown the tricks and techniques done the right way. One thing about trial-and-error though – once you learn the lesson, you never forget it.
Your work combines a couple of specialized woodworking skills (turning and carving) both extremely self-expressive. Where do you feel most at home and why?
I can’t really differentiate here. Each is so rewarding to do. Turning tends to be a rapid reward activity, while carving is more contemplative and delayed gratification.
You’re known for your 18th century furniture work, but is there another style that calls to you when you want to “play”?
I really admire the Biedermeier style, and its final iteration, Art Deco. I love to work in these styles. I’m also constantly amazed at what contemporary makers are accomplishing today.
This is a little bit of a follow-up to the question above…I know you were just visiting with Garry Knox Bennett (not known for 18th century furniture!), what kind of conversations about furniture did the two of you share, or did you?
For years Garry has expressed a genuine appreciation for traditional makers – it’s so far from his realm of activity, it’s like an exotic foreign country. He is in genuine awe of the technical mastery of traditional makers. At the same time, in his typical iconoclastic way, he mocks the fascination with traditional joinery, saying we have glues and fasteners that make all that unnecessary. Every traditionalist should have to spend some time with him to test their mettle.
You’re also known for your stature, and I was fascinated to find out your interest in particular cars. Can you share some of your favorites with us?
I’ve loved European sports cars, particularly British, since I was a kid. Over the years I’ve had, and personally restored, most of the iconic models. For years I owned an award winning Austin Healey 3000, and I presently have an early MGB-GT. Another of my favorites was a Triumph TR-6 (discretely modified), and then there was the Alfa Romeo Spider….