Whidbey woodworkers show at Woodpalooza

Pat McVay cuts a piece of wood to be used in a floral dogwood bench, the second of its kind that McVay has furnished. - Kate Daniel / The Record
Pat McVay cuts a piece of wood to be used in a floral dogwood bench, the second of its kind that McVay has furnished.
— image credit: Kate Daniel / The Record

If a tree falls in a Whidbey forest, Pat McVay will hear it.

The felled wood will beckon McVay, and his chainsaw, to its side. It will confer with him as to what shape it would like to take: a comical piece depicting a truck full of farmers and their swine; a roaring, leaping lion; a functional yet intricately carved bench; a larger-than-life baseball mitt, bat and ball.

“I hate to see a tree cut down,” said McVay, who began working with wood as a furniture repairer in 1971, explaining the reasons he prefers using found or salvaged wood.

At times, he said, he is asked to “make something special” from a customer’s tree, perhaps one planted by a deceased loved one or that the individual simply wishes to use for more than firewood. He also constructs pieces for public spaces, such as a collection of giant baseball-themed work called “Slugger,” inspired by the beat-up equipment he used to find around the baseball fields as a kid, which was purchased for Hidden Valley Park in Bellevue. He made a duplicate set, part of which is at South Whidbey Community Park.

“People always keep me busy making things so I don’t have to wash dishes for a living,” he said with a chuckle.

“The process [of woodworking] is a total immersion, like a meditation almost,” he said.

McVay is one of the members of the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild, a band of professional and amateur woodworkers — including furniture-makers, architectural woodworkers, turners, clock-makers, sawyers, restorers, musical instrument makers, boat builders, refinishers and more — who meet monthly to exchange ideas and techniques and assist one another with their respective projects. The guild also aims to educate aspiring or beginning woodworkers, and welcomes willing apprentices.

From noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 1 at Zech Hall at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the guild will hold its 11th annual Woodpalooza, a showcase of Whidbey artisans’ best works.

Gary Leake, a guild member who restores antiques and crafts wooden furniture into various forms, typically using antique woodworking tools, said the guild was formed 11 years ago as a method to unite local woodworkers, most of whom operate one or two-person shops and who would otherwise rarely have the opportunity to interact with peers and exchange ideas and local services.

For Leake and other guild members, it was essential to make the public aware that woodworking service — from creative projects to restoration and repairs — are available locally from professional artisans.

Leake noted that the artists whose work will be displayed at Woodpalooza run the gamut in terms of style and technique.

“I always love to see the new work from artists who stretch their horizons,” said Leake.

At 5 years old, Leake recalled, he watched his grandfather work making cabinets and restoring antiques. He was enamored with the craft, the smell and touch of wood. When Leake’s wife was pregnant with their first son, he said, he made his first hand-made piece, a rocking chair.

“[My grandfather] would be proud that I’m not cutting everything up in to a rectangle,” Leake said. “I take a lot of time to listen to the wood.”

Leake said he delights in the moment when he is able to witness a person’s realization that there are affordable furniture options outside of Ikea.

“When people look and discover that there is an alternative that is affordable and that pieces like this will last for generations, that’s an enlightening moment that is fun to share,” said Leake, adding that he hopes Woodpalooza will help younger generations to be inspired to take up the profession.

Another guild member, Joseph Albert, primarily creates Pacific Northwest coast, First Nations-style carvings emulating the Kwakwaka’wakw, who primarily reside in British Columbia, and Tlingit using yellow and red cedar and alder. The bold lines of the Kwakwaka’wakw and their use of a wide color spectrum appeal to Albert, as do the more subdued forms and mostly red and blue hued colors of the Tlingit.

“Sometimes I look at a piece of wood and it tells me what it wants to be,” he said. “I just love working in wood. Of all the things I’ve worked in — I’ve worked in some stone, glass, metal, I’ve tried painting — I just like wood. I like the smell of it. I like the feel of it as I carve it. I like to see something come out of the block of wood. It is just inspirational…I love the smell of sawdust; I like the look of chips of wood on the studio floor; I love the sound of a good sharp knife cutting through a good piece.”

For more information on Woodpalooza and the artists, visit Admission to Woodpalooza is free and artists’ works will be available for purchase.


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