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Whidbey woodworker puts clients first: Studio furniture artist shows work in annual event
When Freeland resident John Shinneman first meets with a client to discuss a piece, nothing exists except for an idea and some rough lumber.
Shinneman, owner of JCS Woodworking Studio, is a furniture designer and cabinet maker. His work is featured in the 10th annual Woodpalooza event by the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild.
Woodpalooza aims to provide an alternative to mass-produced furniture and wood art by showcasing the talents of woodworkers on Whidbey Island.
The free event features 20 artists and will be held noon to 5 p.m. daily from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. An opening reception will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30.
Shinneman was attracted to furniture making and design in the early ‘80s.
“I was always building with my hands,” he said.
He was originally schooled as an architect, but was later hired as a draftsman in a cabinet shop. He soon became the foreman and learned that furniture and design are connected skills, he said.
Shinneman ended up carving out a career in design and cabinetry making, opening his own studio in Freeland in 1986.
When the economy crashed in 2008, cabinet making came to a standstill and most of his work centered on furniture making. It has since balanced out, he said.
Shinneman describes his style as rooted in tradition but with a contemporary approach.
Furniture making gives him more artistic freedom, he said. For Shinneman, his greatest pleasure is to see clients add something to their lives that gives them aesthetic pleasure and meets their functional needs.
“That’s what drives me. Being able to solve clients’ problems, and give them solutions,” he said.
Most people don’t understand what goes into making a piece of furniture, he said. Shinneman begins with discussing ideas with clients. He then provides drawings and miniature models to give an understanding of the design. Then he takes the design and cuts out all of the components, sands and applies multiple coats of finish to the piece.
“It’s going to take some time but you won’t be looking to replace it,” he said.
From a spiral staircase to a hobbit door, Shinneman designs what clients need even if it means he has to build the machine to make it. One client brought in an image from a vintage staircase with spiral rails. He didn’t know how to make that, so he made a new machine that would.
Shinneman also personalizes furniture. He recently built a dresser for a poet and included a line of the client’s poetry on the dresser.
He’s tied to the traditional trade and practice of furniture making, trying to respect where the materials come from and not be wasteful.
“I want to express the material at the highest level I can and have the highest quality of product,” he said.
Shinneman will show one piece at the show — an occasional table made of walnut and maple woods. The table includes a cabinet using the negative space under the top.
He enjoys designing functional pieces for smaller spaces, he said.
Shinneman also likes meeting with people and teaching them what it takes to make each piece of furniture. It’s a great opportunity to socialize with others in the field, he said.
“It amazing to see the creative skills on the South Island,” he said. “It’s impressive and inspiring to see other ways they approach a creative challenge and resolve it.”
“Sometimes we get settled in our ways and it’s nice to get a tug to freshen up,” he said.
Shinneman has been part of the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild for ten years and has entered a piece into the show almost every year.
He said the event has received marvelous growth over the years, especially since the move to the space at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts last year. He said the move stepped up the presentation for the show.
“We’re always looking to make a connection with people who want to purchase a piece, and for community exposure,” Shinneman said. “We want to show the benefits of fine and quality furniture and increase the level of recognition beyond the Island.”
This year he said there is a nice diversity and spread of different and new skills at the event.