Randolph is one of those cool under the radar towns. Chartered in 1781, it’s situated in the middle of Vermont’s White River Valley, in Orange County. One stop light all told. The town itself offers a hip local food scene, a budding arts community, and real friendly people. Live music and performance, indy galleries and support for the arts have attracted folks like Guild member David Hurwitz. Hurwitz has a wood shop in a rangy mill building downtown, next door to Vermont photographer Jack Rowell, who gets credit for capturing iconic and authentic Vermont, and the portrait of Dave here.
The workshop features an impressive galley of workstations, vintage and modern equipment, and a vast, immaculate collection of handtools behind Dave’s workbench. When we arrived, there was wild sculptural woodwork in process and John Scofield playing in the background. Here and there a vintage oil can, a slab of petrified wood, a bumper sticker. Feeling very Maurice Sendak meets Johnny Appleseed meets Antoni Gaudi.
A Plattsburgh, NY native who took the long way around to central Vermont, Hurwitz studied mechanical engineering at RIT, and earned a BFA in Wood-working and Fine Furniture. “I was trained in traditional Danish furniture making… joinery, building by hand, hand tools,” Dave explained. “But I was studying sculpture. So I did a two year independent study, sculpting as a furniture maker.”
When put to the task, Hurwitz describes his work as “warmly contemporary,” incorporating carved, organic forms, surface textures, and a mix of materials. “I think in terms of volumes and curves. And I love the evocation of natural, organic forms.” Each piece that he produces is an exercise, or exploration, in creativity. One that subscribes to museum-quality standards and follows the time tested woodworking methods that create heirloom collectibles. “My overall design sense is paired down to sort of basic or pure. Where traditional furniture tends to be form with surface ornamentation applied to an overall design, mine is sort of stripped down. The pure form stands out.” One never feels far from the tree with a Dave Hurwitz piece.
The craftsman has a curator’s passion for eclectic machines, but the mainstay of his shop is above the bench. He’s a carver with an impressive tool cabinet. “A 25+ year accumulation. Many antiques, some as old as the 1870‘s, and all of my machines are older (1929-1979), heavy duty industrial quality from a bygone era of American machinery makers.” These include some re-purposed relics like the Trimosaw below, a old school print industry veteran. “What’s cool about [the Trimosa] is that it has this fence system so I can dial in to the exact depth I want. My own application for tiny parts.” His Vonnegut machine (from the 40’s) sands a profile without changing it at all.
No surprise, the artist’s self-described influences run the gamut from treasures found in nature to the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. He names sculptors like Noguchi and Calder, and woodworking icons like Charles Rene MacIntosh and Wharton Esherick. In each and every one of these guys, you can identify lofty vision and feats of construction, just as in Dave’s Randolph shop.
Every piece is finished by hand; Danish Oil for darker woods like cherry and walnut, where a few coats build up the color and the grain. A clear satin varnish on lighter woods like maple and ash keeps them as light in color as possible, and gives them a little sheen. On his hand-carved spoons and utensils, Dave mixes his own recipe of local beeswax and pure mineral oil; totally food safe and environmentally friendly.
When we asked what he’d be doing if not making furniture, this was his reply. “I’d probably be a full time activist. It’s a big part of my past. For years I was an organizer for the peace and justice group. I enjoy the big picture stuff.” We think he’s modest because although most hours are spent toiling in the shop, Hurwitz makes time to participate in all kinds of developmental activities; sharing experience, serving on boards, listening, helping people in the arts and craft industry to keep current and stay connected. He’s a great facilitator. And to his credit, he’s been awarded many times over by the VWMA and in 2014, named Vermont Woodworker of the Year.
As we packed up, we asked about tomorrow, and the next. “I think the future of Vermont woodcraft is bright. As more and more people wake up to the reality of mass produced furniture and woodcraft, and realize that most of it is now made in Asia, and is generally of lower quality, possibly made of woods that are being logged in unsustainable ways, and made by workers who are being exploited with poverty wages and hazardous working conditions, they will come to appreciate buying Vermont-made furniture, and know that they are supporting a better way in the process.”
Such a feel good proposition. The transparency of the process, the certain and positive local impact, the preservation of a craft tradition, and totally beautiful furniture for the place most sacred to many of us; home.
Featured pieces from Top to Bottom: (1) Carved Cherry and Curly Maple Console (2) Modern Coat Rack with Mirror (3) Arden Writing Desk (4) Cali Console Table, Carved and Painted Poplar Base with Quilted Bubinga Top (5) End Table with Carved Slate Butterfly Top, in Collaboration with Vermont Artist Kerry O. Furlani. Each of the pieces is display in Dave’s portfolio with detailed descriptions.
Featured Portrait in the Blogroll also by Jack Rowell Photography.