“I just bought this cherry and I’m about to start milling it.” Approaching the door to Guild Member Erin Hanley’s Burlington workshop, we found the furniture maker evaluating some cherry stock that she plans to mill and work for a client commission. Erin offers right up that she does, recently, mostly custom projects. Gesturing toward a dining table in process and moving around some mirror schematics, it’s hard not to notice Hanley’s dynamic and frank-seeming personality.
Within our Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers, Hanley is the only gal–a fact she downplays in an effort to turn attention toward her work. But she’s not alone in bringing a balanced gender perspective to woodworking in Vermont. Carina Driscoll ranks high on a list of influencers as co-founder of the Vermont Woodworking School. Folks like Erin and Carina are inspiring the next generation of woodworkers and furniture makers. They’re piquing the interest of young men and women who want to make things with their hands, connect with the working landscape and find a place in Vermont’s craft tradition.
As a maker, Hanley’s hallmarks are hand-cut joinery, richly colored wood and hand-applied finishes. Her catalog on the Guild site features minimalist, modern designs, early American inspired pieces, and heavily ornamented, hand-carved pieces inspired by gothic and renaissance traditions.
A cabinetmaker’s apprentice at 19, Hanley seemed to be adventurous and industrious in her professional life. She was an organic farmer for a decade before attending Boston’s prestigious traditional craft school—North Bennett Street—and committing to full-time, master level furniture making. The tie between the two, she says, is the tactile nature of the work. It’s no surprise that her carving skills and joinery are exemplary.
A visit to Erin’s workshop is also a bit unique. While many of our members look out toward Vermont’s rural vistas, Hanley Fine Furniture is at home in a rangy, rehabbed factory building in downtown Burlington. 4 Howard Street is square in the center of the city’s burgeoning South End Arts District. Its fascinating, maze-like interior houses work and show space for local artists creating in metal, wood, canvas, clay. You name it.
As Erin described, fine furniture design originates in the mind of the maker, and yet craftsmen (and women) are inspired by dialogue with other artists. At 4 Howard Street, there’s no apparent shortage of that. When asked what she likes best about making furniture, Erin replied that she loves the handwork and that she makes “relationships with the people who are buying [her work].” Just as her clients find satisfaction in knowing where and how their furniture pieces are made, Erin finds fulfillment in knowing she’s created a one-of-a-kind piece that will become a family heirloom.
Hanley exhibits her furniture in local galleries like Frog Hollow on Church Street and Edgewater in Middlebury but you can view more of her work on our website. She schedules studio visits by appointment and you’ll find her contact info included with her member profile. A lasting impression, for sure, and in so many ways…