“Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” –Albert Einstein
Tyler Gebhardt, a journeyman member of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers, is known for diversity in his work. If it’s made out of wood, Tyler has probably tried to make it himself. When you ask him about it, he gives the question the kind of thought that speaks to his personality. Just getting the question makes him want to think more deeply on the possibilities of the answer.
And Tyler has a good number of possible answers. He says he’s explored one type of chair, having made countless iterations of that one chair. It’s a quick project that keeps him busy and he likes to be busy. Even when he’s working on one large and complex piece, he takes breaks by working on quicker projects. “I guess you could say it keeps my mind sharp, always working to find different ways of doing things. I enjoy all types of furniture: the complexities of a chair are fun and challenging, and trying to nail the perfect subtle curve on a simple hall table leg are equally satisfying.”
There’s one answer superimposed over the dozen Tyler can come up with to explain why he loves the variety in his work: He’s curious. Tyler sees details everywhere he looks, and he wants to know more about them. The best way to learn is by doing, and whether it’s furniture, boats or something else, Tyler expresses his hands-on learning style. And this education has shown through in all of his work.
In His Blood: A Family Tradition of Woodworking
Tyler was introduced to woodworking as a child. His grandfather, a talented woodworker in his own right, made toys made for him – beautifully crafted toy trucks and cars. Even then, Tyler knew there was a great art to the craft of woodworking. He wondered at the thought and care that went into each piece. “I had always known that they were not really meant to be played with and always had them on shelving around my bedroom.” He examined them, he wondered about them, and he believed even as a young boy that they were more than mere toys.
Tyler explored creation with his hands over the years. From taking every shop class available in high school and working on home projects all the way to woodworking school. One experience from college stood out to him. He took a course that explored emotion in wood, and he “really felt drawn to the idea of creating a piece that invites conversation and curiosity.”
This artistry is the way Tyler explores the world. It’s how he learns about the things around him, and he pursues it with a passion. In fact, his advice for aspiring furniture makers is just that. “A person must be devoted and very passionate about what they are doing… It is very important to truly love what you are doing. If there is passion, you will go far.”
The furniture Tyler makes, which is “a mix of modern, contemporary, and Shaker style,” with some Studio furniture style mixed in (as one can see in his asymmetrical pieces), demonstrates this exploration. “I am always drawing inspiration…from things we see every day, such as a certain curve of a tree branch, the shape of a necklace laying on the table, even the gentle curve of a chain-link fence.” He enjoys working with pieces that offer curves, like bowls.
The Practice of Making Boats
Tyler loves boats. So, he makes canoes. His grandfather’s influence is strong here, too. “My grandfather was also a boat builder. He built over a dozen Adirondack guide boats, which are basically a wider and shallower canoe that you row. Later in his life, when he wasn’t making furniture or boats anymore, he generously gave me many of his tools and a nice collection of woodworking books. Among those books were a few on Cedar strip canoe building. I literally said to myself one evening that I wanted to build one. I started my first canoe when I was 18 years old which was a 16 foot tandem powered canoe weighing about 55lbs.”
This work translates back to furniture work. With a structure composed entirely of curved surfaces, he learns with every canoe he builds how to better curve a leg of a table, or back of a chair.
The process of making a boat also teaches patience. “Getting tight fitting strips and joints is very time-consuming and can pose numerous struggles,” Tyler said. A unique clamping system must be created for every canoe to hold each piece together as they dry. And the fiberglass process itself, a very different process from working with furniture, requires the ability and patience to synthesize a boat from wood and glass fiber. Just one solo canoe might take 175 hours to complete. A longer boat can be 200 hours of work. The Adirondack guide boats built by Tyler’s grandfather – a tradition he plans on continuing from the very same plans his grandfather used — take 350 hours.
Tyler has recently made it to the next phase of his learning process. That is, he is a journeyman member of the Guild. “The Guild has pushed me to improve my attention to detail and to constantly be trying to improve the quality of my work,” Tyler said. “The hundreds of years of combined knowledge in the field is truly remarkable.” The cooperation and sharing amongst furniture makers, who might otherwise be competitors, will help him achieve a new level of woodworking.
Tyler’s Website: http://www.tjgwoodworking.com