Part form, part function, part fantasia: as a group, Park City’s artisan furniture makers possess that rare right brain–meets–left brain gift, where creativity and imagination are grounded in mathematics and ergonomics. The work is as individualistic as the creator (or the client): intricate and deceptively simple, grand and minimalist, whimsical and austere. Here’s an introduction to a few standout Wasatch Back practitioners of this age-old craft.
To say Zafod Beatlebrox’s functional art pushes the limits of the imagination is a bit of an understatement. One of his most recent works is a 40-foot-long, LED-lit fish/vehicle with the bones of an S-10 Blazer and a sealed body of galvanized and mild steel. “I’m dyslexic, so I look at things differently than most people,” Beatlebrox says. That atypical worldview, coupled with a desire to move people with his art, has resulted in a very eclectic body of work.
Beatlebrox’s pieces run a colorful gamut, from tables to a giant metal mailbox in the shape of a dragon. Many of his pieces are innately connected to and inspired by the land surrounding his Browns Canyon home, such as a locally harvested stone slab table Beatlebrox affixed onto a base made of stainless steel petroglyphs. Other pieces seem to stem simply from his own inspiration, like a copper, stainless steel, and porcelain throne designed to sit atop a toilet seat—a decidedly more regal perch than that offered by the usual WC fixture.
Beatlebrox’s work reflects a mechanical and industrial background, as well as a facility with unusual materials—hubcap-bedecked cabinets, a lampshade made from a Malian hat, and a variety of pieces fashioned from cement. As anyone who has taken a ride in his now-retired Live Music Taxi can attest, the longtime local has a flair for funkiness. And he’s not easily daunted by any idea, even if it’s a 40-foot fish with a moving tail that doesn’t quite fit in his workshop.
Formerly a product design consultant, Joe Norman has plied his mechanical engineering degree on a path from business to teaching to getting his hands on tools and creating art. Some of his work is functional; some is not. But almost all emits emotional resonance with a tendency to spark conversation. “The discussion is part of the art as well as the physical art,” says Norman, who has an affinity for social justice and environmental causes.
Take his Ammo Table, the surface of which is made from bullet casings and depicts an image of Jesus. Currently installed in a church, this piece has evoked a range of opposing reactions and thoughtful dialogue. Yet not all of Norman’s work has the potentially incendiary impact of guns and religion. He’s made tables out of bicycle gears and planters out of old climbing equipment (commissioned by Purple Sage restaurant). And sometimes the materials drive the art: a neighbor’s recently felled apricot tree, for example, exuded just the right namaste to suit a yoga instructor’s desk.
While Norman spends a chunk of his time in the somewhat constrained craft of building custom gates and fences, his bread-and-butter day job is balanced with art. Locally, Gallery MAR (436 Main St, 435.649.3001) displays his two-dimensional rust painting on steel canvases as well as his end tables.
It’s only fitting that an artist named Sawyer would end up in the woodworking profession. Nikos Sawyer’s custom furniture—large-scale French- and Italian-inspired dining tables, armoires, buffets, and cabinets—is sought after by local interior designers to furnish homes in and around Park City. And while he revels in the “big, Rubenesque fun” of building such gentrified pieces, Sawyer has a minimalist side, too, which he feeds by creating contemporary pieces for chic galleries such as E3 Modern in Salt Lake City.
“I love design-driven pieces,” he says, “letting the design element take over versus making everything super functional.” Some of his latest contemporary pieces are ergonomic chairs made from old whiskey barrels characterized by thin lines, and a seat made from walnut and ash inspired by an origami crane. “They are totally not comfortable,” Sawyer jokes, “but you can sit on them.”
Though he crafts most of his custom pieces in alder, Sawyer relishes the linear grain of quarter-sawn oak. He’s been known to go the reclaimed route, having recently built a bar for Uinta Brewing Co. out of old pallet wood covered in beer-keg rings and logos. He also dabbles in urban logging: when his aunt needed to chop down an aging tree in her yard, he took care of the job, milled the wood, and now has 19 beautiful walnut slabs drying in his Heber City shop, awaiting rebirth as sculpture or heirloom-quality furniture.