“Every item we make — a table, a chair, a boat, or a building — carries with it its own form of knowledge. Every project, however large or small, requires a unique approach. That’s the interesting thing about building.” Vermont furniture maker Kit Clark shared his perspective on the fine furniture business with us. We visited his studio in North Ferrisburgh workshop a couple of months ago to learn more about his work, and the making process. “You can build a dug out canoe with an axe, yes? But it takes an entirely different approach to make a rocking chair. Building has an endless learning curve, and that’s why I love it.”
Clark is obsessed with learning, and pushing his limits. He’s a skier, a biker, and an avid outdoorsman. He studied forestry and mine reclamation in college, which kindled a real love of wood and commitment to a healthy landscape. The furniture, Kit explained, was kind of a natural progression. “I had the forestry part down. In the summers, I worked with my uncle, a master carpenter and horse logger. And he taught me the finer points of his trade.” From there, Clark headed southeast to the Penland School of Craft . “Penland is an amazing place with an intense program. It’s nationally renowned, with incredible woodworkers and instructors.”
Given Kit’s background, it’s no surprise that organic and sculptural lines define his studio work. When we arrived, he was beginning a collaborative piece commissioned by Frog Hollow State Craft Center; a new street side sign for their Burlington gallery. Vermont artist Kevin Ruelle conceptualized the piece, keying off Clark’s maker style. Check out the finished product here.
On the loading dock were several tables. Described by Clark’s customers as homage to the tree, with branch-like supports and strong, dynamic grains.
Influences? “My favorite artist and woodworker is Sam Maloof,” he gestured toward a rocking chair in the spray room. “Maloof started with a rocker that looked like a stretched out ’58 Cadillac, and sort of kicked off the functional art movement. I was really attracted to that piece so I found a guy, Hal Taylor, who lives outside of Richmond, VA and he taught me.”
Kit’s Rocker. A challenging one to build, Clark hand sands and dry fits every piece. The process is evident everywhere. Templates hang along the wall by the stairs. The form, where laminated back slats stay clamped for 48 hours, holds court in the shop center. Two thousand pounds of pressure per square inch, making an heirloom, and a darn comfortable chair. Routers are also requisite. The craftsman sets a few for specific tasks. One below makes the joints for the rocker legs, and that’s it.
“I like to book-match everything with the rockers,” Kit explained. “The arms are out of one piece of wood, the runners, too. It produces a symmetry and a depth that some clients and collectors notice right away, and appreciate.” We asked if there was a particular thing that he hoped would impress people about his work and he replied… “I try to incorporate unique details so that people will enjoy looking at them for a long time, and I hope to be distinctive.” He continued to talk about the local aspect of his work. Working with regional suppliers like A Johnson Company and Lathrops out of nearby Bristol. “I’m proud of the care and labor that goes into a piece, and the quality Vermont wood. In one hundred years, it will stand out. And it appreciates in value.”
Favorite tool or piece of equipment in the shop? “This Crescent jointer is from the 30s,” Kit told us. “It’s the beginning phase of every project. It’s so heavy, it’s totally true. I set the fence, and it’s been that way for a year and a half.” And it, believe it or not, appreciates in value, as well. “It’s an antique. From a warehouse in Ohio. American made in an era when American manufacturing was producing the best steel, the best everything.” He told us a great little story about his table saw, too. Driving down to Brooklyn and picking it up from an old warehouse under a trestle bridge; something kind of romantic about it.
Is there anywhere else this guy would rather be? We had to ask. “I’ll always be building,” was his response. “That’s where my happiness lies. I do something I enjoy every day. I live in a place I love; Vermont is a great place to make furniture.”
Kit’s been a Guild member for four or five years now. And his reason for joining, and staying, is like many of our makers. He cites the sharing of knowledge, and the camaraderie of the woodworkers. “The Guild helps us become better furniture makers, and provides a forum to interact with other craftsmen about the same kinds of things. That dialogue drives all of us to improve.” On that so very likeable and positive note, we bid Mr. Clark a fine afternoon.