For members of the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild, hand-crafted wooden furniture and art is head and shoulders above mass produced pieces.
Knowing professional woodworkers such as themselves can’t compete against the Scandinavian furniture store’s cheap prices, woodworking is also a “labor of love,” according to Langley woodworker Bruce Schwager. At this weekend’s Woodpalooza festival, Schwager and others from the guild hope to share that passion with the next generation of Whidbey-based woodworkers.
“Many of us in the guild are 60 or older, so we’re all eager to share our experience with younger people either starting out or considering a career in woodworking,” Schwager said. “Woodpalooza is a time to reach out to people so they can see what we do, how we do it or get to know us in case they want something similar in the future.”
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) is hosting the 14th annual Woodpalooza this weekend in Zech Hall. It’s become something of a Labor Day Weekend tradition for craftsmen throughout the area, according to Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild Secretary Gary Leake, as the festival pulls people from across state lines. Woodpalooza brings together more than a dozen members of the guild to showcase their work, ranging from functional pieces such as benches and chairs to abstract art.
Zech Hall is hosting an opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday. The space will then be open for the festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day. The festival is free and open to the public, although pieces can be purchased on site.
Ten percent of the purchases will go towards a fundraiser for WICA.
“Of course, the same core of people will be there showing their work, but we have some fresh blood with some new members,” Leake said. “For some this is an entry into showing their work, for others it’s an opportunity to see what each other have been working on this year.”
Woodpalooza has a significant educational aspect in addition to showcasing the work of skilled Whidbey craftsmen. All the sculptors, carvers and carpenters will be present and eager to discuss their work with curious guests and potential buyers. Guild member John Shinneman will also host an educational demonstration and lecture from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, covering techniques, retro machinery compared to new machinery, etc.
According to Leake, Shinneman is a wealth of knowledge.
“He’s always been a retro guy who’s great to talk to if you’re interested in woodworking,” Leake said. “He has old turn-of-the-century equipment that isn’t used anymore, such as machinery with Babbitt bearings and a leather belt. We all do a bit of retro woodworking to some extent, but he’s the most extreme and he wants to show younger generations those skills.”
For the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild, it’s important to show others there is a market for handcrafted wooden furniture to inspire others to keep the handcrafted tradition alive. Leake says it’s clear from an economic standpoint it’s impossible to compete against a “display table that comes as particle board pieces in a box with an Allen wrench.” But he says customers recognize if they’re looking for durable furniture that will last generations, they don’t need to look further than a woodworker who uses good wood.
There will be plenty of them on standby this Labor Day weekend.
“Some have an appreciation, a need or the money to afford the difference between something from IKEA and a quality product— and that’s really what Woodpalooza is about,” Leake said. “We’re here to demonstrate the height of the craft and also try to encourage others to look at it as a possible hobby or career.”