Going with the grain

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gary Leake’s earliest memory is one that quite literally shaped the rest of his life.

In his recollection, he is about five years old, and his grandfather—a cabinetmaker like his father before him—is patiently teaching him how to use a lathe.

“I loved the smell and touch of the various woods, and even the sawdust,” Leake says. “After he died, I inherited many of his hand tools—planes, saws, chisels—and his bedpost lathe. I am reminded of him anytime I use any of his tools.”

Although Leake has made good use his grandfather’s various tools of the trade, for many years it was only on a part-time basis—among other things, on projects such as the rocking chair he designed for his wife Sandy when she was pregnant with their first son 35 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, Leake and his spouse quit their respective careers and he began to work with wood on a full-time basis. They moved their shop from Burien to Coupeville in 2000, and Leake says since then he’s been happily restoring old pieces, repairing damaged pieces and creating new works, which is his true passion.

Leake will be on hand to answer questions about his craft—and sell a selection of pieces he’s made—during the 10th annual Woodpalooza happening Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Langley’s Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

As one of the many furniture-makers, sculptors and custom designers who’ll be sharing their works at the annual event, Leake says he’s thrilled to be part of the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild, and hopes people will show their support for the artisans who are involved in one of Earth’s oldest professions.

He also wants people to remember the world of wood is a varied one.

“Unfortunately, many people’s view of wood is limited to two-by-fours, kitchen cabinets and furniture that comes in a box with a wrench to assemble,” Leake says. “Five minutes at the Woodpalooza exhibition immediately broadens their horizons. Many visitors come away with a renewed sense of taking up their hobby; beginning a woodworking hobby/business; or hopefully supporting the arts by purchasing one of the many pieces on display.”

Eventually, some of those people may even be part of the Woodworkers Guild, which Leake says has been an invaluable experience for him. In addition to being able to share stories and knowledge with other woodworkers, Leake says members visit each other’s shops, discuss issues such as pricing and insurance, refer work and collaborate on larger projects none of the individual shops could singularly perform.

Which brings us to the question: Why does Whidbey Island have so many talented artisans who use wood as their medium?

Leake’s answer?  “I think the natural beauty of Whidbey tends to draw folks who appreciate the grain, feel and smell of the wood timbers that we wish to give a second, and continued, life to through our work.”

And, while he enjoys collaborating with his peers, Leake notes his artistic process is typically a solitary one. He says some pieces begin to form from the moment he sees a particular piece of wood, while others pieces must wait their turn.

“Every now and then I visit these solitary planks so patiently waiting for their time,” he says. “And one day I’m either listening better or the wood is speaking louder, and suddenly the inspiration becomes vivid for what would best honor the nature of the timber. Unfortunately, some pieces have been waiting decades for their chance.”

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