Guild member Jason Breen lives and works in West Brattleboro. He’s as connected to his land as a farmer must be. Together with his wife and two children, he raises goats and chickens, makes maple syrup and gardens to feed the homestead through the year. Somehow he finds time to make incredible furniture, too.
Traditional and innovative at once, Breen’s signatures include the joinery and handwork that distinguish our Guild collections. He does things the traditional way; operating his own small sawmill and hauling harvested logs there with real horsepower. You know, the four-legged kind…
The furniture maker says one of the beautiful things about milling his own wood is the ability to take advantage of oddball pieces, logs that would be discarded or deemed unusable by a larger, more commercial mill. Breen’s ability to select unique pieces opens up the ‘material’ gates and he brings rarely used, locally sourced woods into his composition with some really distinctive results.
You probably recognize Sumac. With its velvety stems branching to resemble a deer’s antlers, the Staghorn variety is common to New England woods as a perimeter shrub (Rhus Typhina). You see it often along forest edges and roadsides, growing in colonies and showing off great foliage color in the autumn season. It rarely gets to a size that could yield usable lumber, except in a unique circumstance like this one…
A neighbor of Breen’s had been cultivating a particular Sumac shrub for shade cover until a different planting was mature enough to take its place in the fellow’s landscape. When the day came to fell the broad trunked shrub, our furniture maker was in line with a helping hand, his quote and a bit of inspiration. At the end of the day, he happily toted away the three foot log of green-hued lumber.
With a vision Inspired by the early works of master craftsman James Krenov, Breen set out to build a cabinet with the freshly milled Sumac; an unpretentious and distinctive cabinet where straightforward, lasting design would be enlivened by the wood’s intense surface grain and unique color. Measuring 24” x 12 ½” x 8 ½” the wall cabinet features distinctive yellowwood knobs, meant to mimic traditional brass knobs you’d find on similarly sized drawers in desks and such. The yellowwood is also courtesy of a local harvest—leftovers from a neighbor’s pruning venture–and the entire piece is finished with a non-toxic blend of organic vegetable oils.
The Sumac cabinet was included in an exhibition of studio furniture commissioned by our State Craft Center, Frog Hollow, a couple of years ago. The show “From Vermont Forests” featured fine furniture pieces made from native woods, highlighting the beauty and diversity of Vermont’s forest landscape. Breen tells us that by harvesting local wood and milling it himself, he reduces waste, travel expense and middlemen, passing all of those positive attributes through the piece to the customer.
American naturalist Wendell Berry once wrote that good work “honors the source of its material.” Guild member Jason Breen calls himself an ‘accountable craftsman’ who stands behind his work and artistry. His work style and product shows reverence for the working landscape that is his home. The woodworker welcomes inquiries by telephone or email and those who want to visit his workshop can make arrangements in advance. If you’re interested in exploring the furniture maker’s catalog, our website shows traditionally-inspired pieces as well as those in his own vernacular.