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Wood Woman

Local furniture designer’s work balances form and function

January 13, 2013
By BILL ACKERBAUER , The Leader Herald

In a weathered, concrete building in downtown Gloversville, the deafening roar of a machine can be heard as sawdust piles up at the feet of a young artisan.

The building, at 5 Forest St., is the home of Easterly Woodworking and Design, and the artisan is Susy Easterly, who designs and produces heirloom-quality furniture and custom cabinetry in a contemporary style.

Though Easterly, 36, is an accomplished builder of chairs and tables, she says she's still learning the ins and outs of building her own business and expanding her customer base.

Article Photos

Woodworker Susy Easterly is shown Thursday at the Micropolis Gallery in Gloversville with a cantilever chair she designed and built using repurposed industrial plywood. The chair is one of several pieces she has displayed at the gallery, where she is a board member. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer)

"But locally, I've been staying busy," she said. "It's surprising, the projects I've been getting lately."

Several examples of Easterly's custom work can be seen here and around the Adirondacks, including a caterpillar-style activity table in the children's room at the Gloversville Public Library, a counter and display table at Station Street Wine & Liquor in Lake Placid and a large sign at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.

Easterly is a member of the board of directors of Micropolis Cooperative Gallery, and some of her pieces can be seen on display at the gallery, inside the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market at 30 N. Main St.

Many more examples of her work adorn private homes.

Wally Hart and Bill Crankshaw commissioned Easterly to design and build a white-oak bookcase for their home in Gloversville.

"It's extraordinary, the detail she put into the bookcase," Hart said. "We wanted something very sleek and simple, and she did that, and then she embellished it and refined the bookcase. We couldn't be happier with the work she's done."

Easterly explains her process for working with clients on custom pieces: "If someone approaches me and wants cabinets or a few pieces of furniture, I'll do a few drawings first and get a feel for what they want. I show them the sketches, and they either like them or don't like them, and I go from there."

She also sometimes makes miniature scale models of tables and chairs to help clients visualize the finished product, and several of these doll-sized specimens are displayed on shelves at her shop.

Seasoned in woodwork

A Johnstown native, Easterly earned a bachelor's degree in studio art from the University of New Hampshire in 1998.

"That's where I fell in love with woodworking," she said, citing UNH furniture design professor Fred Loucks as one of her mentors.

Another was John Van Alstine, a Wells-based sculptor whose work is known internationally. Easterly apprenticed with him in the summers of 1995 and '96, learning welding techniques and creating a steel and marble sculpture of her own design.

"I did a lot of watching," she said of her time working with Van Alstine. "He's a really good teacher."

In 1998, she went to work for Henry Fox of Fox Brothers Furniture Studio of Newburyport, Mass., where she honed her laminating and joinery skills.

She then went on to earn a master of fine arts degree in industrial design from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and her work detoured from wood, briefly, for an internship in sneaker design at New Balance.

After graduate school, she returned to Johnstown and worked for local furniture maker Jonathan Sweet.

"I worked for Neal and Sweet for five years," Easterly said. "Upon starting there, I brought experience, skill and an eye for design, which helped to grow the business. There, I was able to hone my skills, as I was responsible for producing several of the pieces from start to finish. As a result, I gained the confidence to begin my own business."

In 2010, she bought the building at 5 Forest St., Gloversville, from neighboring business Curtin-Hebert, and began renovating the structure by converting part of its first floor into her wood shop.

"We basically just gutted it," she said.

A room on the east side of the building is devoted to storing the raw materials of her craft - tons of hardwood she has acquired over several years.

In the yet-unfinished space closest to the Forest Street entrance, Easterly plans to create an office and showroom, and she wants to fix up the second floor to create a loft apartment.

Passion for chairs

Though she produces a lot of custom cabinetry, windows and other structural furnishings, her passion is furniture.

"If I could choose just one thing and focus on that, I would love to be a chair maker, and I would love to be known as a chair designer. Chairs are just fun to design and build. They're challenging - the joinery can be really complex."

When designing commissioned pieces, Easterly considers the greater context of the buildings in which they will be used. She cites American Arts and Crafts architectural icons Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene as inspirations for her contemporary design work.

She admires these "architects known as world-renowned designers, because they did everything for the home," she said. And while the Arts and Crafts movement reached its height more than 100 years ago, the structural details and styles established by these pioneers still strike the viewer as nothing but modern.

And Easterly's work is squarely in that vein, with clean lines and an emphasis on sturdy construction and clear finishing that shows off the character of the wood.

"My design is contemporary," she said. "I don't really like traditional stuff."

For more information about Easterly, email her at susy.easterly@gmail.com or visit "Easterly Woodwork and Design" on Facebook.

Features editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at features@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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