It’s judicious positioning to have placed Tom Calhoun’s hall table by the front entrance of “Inspired Hands 2006.” The Hui No`eau’s latest exhibit is a demonstration of the breadth of fine woodwork currently being produced by Maui Woodworker’s Guild.
Calhoun’s “Out of the Box Into the Stream” multi-wood combination of functional and sublime is as much furniture as it is sculpture. The award-winning woodworker has created a unique and modern table of koa, mango, monkeypod, silver oak, holly, avocado burl and milo.
While the table’s legs are all intricate inlay and clean lines, the tabletop juxtaposes their severity with freeform slabs of wood that have been sanded and finished to the effect of polished stone, then fitted together like puzzle pieces.
It took Calhoun three 40-hour weeks to finish. And it comes with a $10,000 price tag.
“If you had to pay the car guy to fix your car and it took him three weeks to do it,” Calhoun told me. “Think about how much it would cost.”
Although the market for woodwork on Maui is small, many woodworkers have created niches for themselves, with half of any art or handmade furniture pieces ultimately exported to the mainland. Calhoun has had his own shop for 19 years—20, this March—and said the kind of work he does varies from year to year.
“Anywhere from one-third to two-thirds will be art-commissioned pieces,” he said. “And the rest is custom cabinetry and whatever pays the bills. You have more fun doing things from your imagination but it’s a lot of work. My tendency is to go overboard [for exhibits].”
Calhoun points to a Dennis Holzer sculpture titled “Alive and Well.” Made of koa and milo woods with a granite base, it depicts an ocean-inspired scene with a sea turtle mid-stroke, swimming out of a cluster of coral teeming with life. Priced at $6,500, it sold the first night.
“I’m sick of marine art,” Calhoun said. “I was born and raised here. And if anyone asks me to make a whale’s tale table, I’ll send ‘em somewhere else. But this,” Calhoun said as he walked slowly around the sculpture, nodding approvingly, “looks like a real turtle.”
Another Holzer sculpture, “Warm Breeze,” with a tag for $3,200, is a large piece of curvaceous hau wood with the center portion carved to resemble a woman’s serene face. It sold the second night of the exhibit.
“A lot of this work just goes into people’s homes,” Mats Fogelvik, president and co-founder of Maui’s Woodworkers Guild, said. “But here’s a chance to see it.”
The Guild began six years ago, and now has 40 members—22 of whom are on exhibit. This is their third show.
“Most woodworkers I know are self-taught,” Fogelvik said. “When I came here, I had to learn about Hawaiian woods. Wood moves and has different moisture. You have to know the basic rules of wood and its movements, or it will crack and fade eventually.”
“Half of being a woodworker, besides knowing how to do things,” said woodworker Steve Hynson, “is knowing how to fix things.”
“It’s one part good engineering and one part good design—there has to be a balance,” Fogelvik said. “You have to be precise. Sculpture is more forgiving but joinery is complicated. It takes time.”
Like many of the woodworkers at the exhibit, Fogelvik was commissioned to make a dresser so he already had a jig set up. From it, he made another more elaborate dresser to display, one with koa veneers, ebony and holly inlays, and self-closing drawers. This is also a way for woodworkers to keep the cost down.
“A lot of people order Shaker-style furniture,” Calhoun said. “For most people they’d be surprised what they’re seeing in a show like this—the high-end. Nice koa like this is $50 to $60 a board foot. We have our ways to keep things affordable. A simple coffee table made out of inexpensive hardwoods could be $2,000. But if you go into a commercial store, you’re paying a thousand anyway.”
Walking through a nearby exhibit room, Fogelvik and I saw Peter Naramore’s large oval dining table. It’s a stunning and massive construct of koa and maple with holly inlay. The price is stunning, as well: $42,500.
“These are our antiques of the future,” Hynson said, smiling. “Or so we tell ourselves.”
“So we hope,” Fogelvik said.
The Hui No`eau Visual Arts Center is located at 2841 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, 572-6560 or visit www.huinoeau.com. For more info on Maui Woodworkers, visit www.mauiguild.com. MTW