Arts and Entertainment

Master woodworkers show is open at Bayview Corner

Furniture maker Rob Hetler made this
Furniture maker Rob Hetler made this 'Memory Box' to hold cremated ashes for a loved one. The piece is on display with the work of 19 other master woodworkers through Oct. 3 at Woodpalooza in the Bayview Cash Store.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Robert Bennett

When someone spends 250 hours to make one chest of drawers, woodwork enthusiasts and art lovers take notice.

It took that long for local furniture maker Robert Hall Bennett to make his “Torii Fourteen Drawer Chest,” which is just one of a variety of lovingly crafted wood pieces featured in the eighth annual Woodpalooza exhibition. The show is now open at the Bayview Cash Store.

Bennett saw a chiffonier designed by the famous early 20th century architects Charles and Henry Greene and was inspired. He decided he wanted to make his own version.

The Greene’s famous chest of drawers sold for $311,000 in 2005. Bennett’s is not priced quite that high, but the hand-turned piece made from walnut and bubinga woods is one of the show’s most expensive items.

“I make a fair number of small tables, but I’ve been wanting to make something like this for quite awhile,” Bennett said, “and just decided to do it.

“I was really hoping that it wouldn’t take that long, but it did,” he added.

The show, presented by the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild and hosted by Taste For Wines, runs through Oct. 3 and features creative works by 20 of the guild’s most talented artists.

Now in its tenth year, the guild includes makers of furniture, cabinetry, architectural woodwork, turners, clockmakers, sawyers, carvers, restorers, musical instrument makers, boat builders and refinishers.

Bennett said he likes to work in Japanese torii style, which is a style of a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine or inside. He’s been building furniture for about 16 years and has a background in boat work.

“I still do big boats occasionally,” he said.

But his heart is in the one-of-a-kind pieces he carefully builds.

Woodworkers such as Bennett, who design exquisite customized furniture and artifacts, see the guild and its annual show as a way to educate the public about the mastery of the woodworker’s craft.

Woodworker and guild member Gary Leake said he hopes the work seen in the show will inspire a new generation of master craftsmen and women. The exhibit also reveals the talent that is teeming on the island.

“Most furniture and wood-art made today is mass-produced and often designed and built for low-cost, short-term use; to throw away,” Leake said.

“Woodpalooza presents an alternative that involves the talents of master craftsmen and craftswomen who make their living creating pieces that will beautifully endure for generations,” he added.

Another of the guild’s members and exhibitors is Rob Hetler, who said Woodpalooza shows a very eclectic, wide-range of work. Hetler shows his “Memory Box,” a funerary receptacle which is meant to hold the cremated remains of a loved one.

“I made one last year for someone who’s wife had passed away,” Hetler said.

“It was new for me. I’ve made coffins over the years. Culturally, we’re not sure what to do with the remains.

I know people who have them in a cardboard box or even a plastic bag, which is I think a little disrespectful,” he said.

“This is my solution.”

Hetler’s Memory Box is simple, with maple doors and beautiful. He recently made a small box for pet ashes which he donated to the WAIF auction.

The show offers a variety of styles and objects, but is consistent in its display of those who have a talent for working with wood.

“The guild invites everyone to come and experience the numerous types of woods in a wide variety of forms while rubbing shoulders with the artisans who carry on one of our oldest and most endearing professions,” Leake said.

From funerary boxes to chiffoniers, to electric guitars and Native American carvings, the show runs the gamut and also includes the work of Joseph Albert, Buffy Cribbs, Gordy Edberg, Bruce Launer, Jon Magill, Bruce Schwager, Christine Schwager, Kermit Chamberlin, Shawn DeMots, Thomas Fisher, Michael Flanagan, David Gray, Christopher Pope, Rick Pitt, Neil Sorenson, Doug Struthers and Cecil Stearns.

The exhibit is free and open from noon to 6 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and Wednesdays and opens with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight, with wine and hors d’oeuvre hosted by Taste for Wines.

For more information about the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild, visit for more information.



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