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Natural style

Rustic furniture among works to be displayed at museum’s fair

September 4, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

Rustic furniture, including works of both traditional and contemporary design, will be on display at the Adirondack Museum's 24th annual Rustic Furniture Fair next Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11.

Artists show and sell their work at the fair by invitation only, according to Katherine Moore, a marketing associate with the museum in Blue Mountain Lake. A committee composed of museum staff selects artists to invite based on criteria. All work must be originally designed and handcrafted from materials in their natural form.

Moore, in an email, said Adirondack rustic furniture was traditionally made by hand, primarily out of parts of trees - bark, branches, burl, twig and log. The men normally made the furniture during the winter, she said; in the summer they were usually guides, carpenters and handymen.

Article Photos

Russ Gleaves points to the legs of a table he built at his shop in Northville on?Wednesday. Gleaves carved the Black Walnut legs to resemble a natural tree limb.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney?Minor

"Since it's revival some 20-plus years ago, rustic has been gaining in popularity once again," Moore said in an email.

Adirondack memories

Russ Gleaves, of William Gleaves Woodworking in Northville, agreed the work is becoming more popular.

A rustic furniture builder, Gleaves said a lot of his clients tell him the pieces evoke happy memories of the Adirondacks or just time spent outdoors.

"It reminds some people of a simpler time," he said.

Gleaves has been making rustic furniture professionally for 10 years, working out of his shop at 448 Hope Falls Road.

He has been drawn to the work since he was a child, when his parents moved to the Adirondacks in 1976. Some of the older architecture in the area fascinated him.

"That started my obsession with natural materials," he said.

Gleaves makes a variety of items - beds, vanities, display cases, etc. - out of natural materials. Over the last few years, Gleaves said, he has been doing more wood carving. As an example, he pointed to the Black Walnut legs on a table he made. The legs were carved to resemble a natural tree limb.

He contrasted the table's more modern appearance with another table in his workshop, which had more traditional twig work.

Gleaves said they serve as a small example of the variety that has bloomed in the field of rustic furniture since he started working professionally.

"[Rustic furniture] fits into so many people's lives," Gleaves said. "[The variety] gets many different people interested in the pieces."

Some pieces - handmade using antique tools - can take time to complete. Big pieces can take Gleaves a month-and-a-half to produce. Much of what he makes is done for specific clients, but some pieces are produced specifically to show at events, such as the fair.

Gleaves said the work allows him to evolve as an artist, and to use materials he finds to provide a unique look. As an example, he showed a cabinet he made with glass panels in the doors that appeared dimpled. The glass came from a farmhouse that was built in the 1830s, Gleaves said, and has that look because of the way glass was made at that time.

As a builder, Gleaves said, it has been great to see the increase in both variety and quality of rustic furniture pieces being produced since he started working in the field.

When he goes to the fair, Gleaves said, he finds "the bar gets raised every year."

Natural materials

William Bush and John Miller, of Bush Millwork in Amsterdam, use natural materials such as wood, stone, glass and metal when they produce their works.

However, they do not rely on using "found" materials and will change the appearance of some. For example, they might use oil staining on wood in a piece. While some of the works they create can be categorized as part of the classic rustic style, others can not.

Bush said when designing and creating one of their pieces - which all are handmade - both feel free to identify a theme and create a unique piece for their client.

"The pieces here, there is one of each," Bush said, gesturing around their workspace at the Edson Street Industrial Park. "You'll never see another one."

The work can take some time. For instance, a privacy screen took about seven months to complete. However, the payoff is intricate work that will last a lifetime.

For example, the top of each Mahogany post of the privacy screen is carved to represent a seed pod for that tree. Brass was coldworked on an anvil and bronzed to replicate seedlings at the base. The screen's four panels have an outer section of hand-weaved rift-cut ash that is joined by brass pins to each post. The inner sections are slate pierced in the image of leaves.

To get the pieces to the show - which include a dresser, privacy screen and a door - will take about a week and a half of planning.

While it's a good amount of work, Bush said, they expect going to the fair will introduce them to other artists and possibly new clients.

Drawn to the style

Jon Swartwout of Johnstown has met a number of people at the fair who have commissioned pieces.

Selling pieces does more than give him a boost financially.

""It pushes me to be creative, to keep growing as an artist," he said.

Swartwout has been making rustic furniture professionally since 2005, though he started learning about the art form a couple years before.

It is not only the process of creating rustic furniture that appeals to him. Having grown up spending time in the Adirondacks, the appearance of the style naturally called to him.

"I was drawn to [the style] right away," he said. "I just knew that was what I wanted to do.

For more information about the Rustic Furniture Fair, visit the Adirondack Museum's website at



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