Wood is dynamic. It changes with humidity, the seasons, and time. You have to pay attention. Rub against the grain and you may ruin the surface. But find that sweet spot and striking art emerges. Here, we delve into the processes and personalities of three artists whose work honors wood’s imperfections—and shows off the beauty in the grain.
Artistic, organic furniture
While studying biochemistry at Colby College, Garth Franklin took one course in furniture-making and fell in love with the craft. Like so many others, he visited Utah to ski and ended up staying. In 2013, he moved to Park City and, just two years later, opened Franklin Woodworking in Salt Lake City.
Since then, his custom pieces—ranging from beds to dining room tables—have imbued homes and businesses with hallmarks of his work: subdued design, careful proportion, and visible joinery statements. “People like one-of-a-kind creations,” he says. “Every project has variables that keep it fresh and creative.”
Franklin works with domestic hardwoods such as American black walnut and cherry as well as large slabs of exotic species like guanacaste. “Sometimes I feel like it’s my time to design, and sometimes it’s my time to let the wood speak,” he says. “The shape of the table is already decided by the slab, and my job is simply to highlight its characteristics.”
Known for creating heirloom pieces and sculptural wall hangings inspired by the Mountain West, he works to enhance the wood’s inherent natural beauty. “Wood is an amazing medium,” he says. “[And working in wood incorporates] grain patterns, the live edge, and the unique characteristics of each tree and species.”
See his work at franklinwoodworking.com.
Abstract sculpture, driven by ideas
For Salt Lake City–based David LeCheminant, wood is a sculptural medium. His abstract art takes a sharp detour from familiar objects that often dominate the realm of wood-based creations. “In a world of machines and digital everything, my pieces are very analogue, handmade, refined, and well executed,” he explains.
These thoughtful works reflect ideas about culture, society, religion, and politics. For example, his most current collection, titled Thin Blue Veil, is a statement of the fragile state of our planet and what is at stake if we don’t restore environmental balance. To this end, he often uses reclaimed wood or “found” materials that can be given new life. “Sometimes my work is purely formal—all about color, form, texture, and scale. It’s an exercise in creating a volume with no apparent meaning other than the object itself,” he explains. “More often, my work starts with an idea that then germinates and grows as the work progresses. Either way, I like to present my ideas so there is plenty of room for viewers to bring their own ideas and experiences—to connect to the work in a personal way.”
He began his art career working as a glass artist for several years before turning his keen eye to wood. His sculptures have been showcased in galleries in New York, Maryland, California, Ohio, and Utah, including the local Meyer Gallery. “David has an innate and intuitive understanding of color, a conceptual clarity of composition in three-dimensional form, and exquisite skills of craftsmanship,” says Susan Meyer, the gallery’s owner. “Craftsmanship in wood is age old, so to take this very familiar medium and surprise us with works of art that delight us with texture, illusions of movement, and brilliant color is a genuine feat.”
See his work at Meyer Gallery (305 Main St, 435.649.8160) or davidlecheminant.com.
Backcountry powder lured Bruce Sheely to Utah 33 years ago. In 1993, he built his own cabin in the upper Weber Canyon and, during the process, made a wooden handrail. Much to his delight and surprise,
he discovered a passion for wood. “I started with logs because there are so many aspens here,” he says. It evolved from there.
He opened BP Sheely Designs in 2004 as a side job to his career as a shock-trauma registered nurse. But once he retired, building handmade furniture became a full-time pursuit.
Sheely grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and moved to the West (Colorado and Arizona) in 1982. Now, he calls the Uinta Mountains home. His environment has a distinct influence on the custom furniture he builds as he embellishes traditional designs with Alpine or Southwestern flair. In addition to furniture, he also creates—and plays—gorgeous Native American flutes.
Each design is embellished with beautiful details. “I inlay crushed turquoise into the knots and cracks,” he says. “I also add copper panels with a patina to cabinet doors, bookcases, and tables.” Then, he uses Danish oil or hand-rubbed beeswax to give his pieces a unique finish. He also mixes different wood species—black walnut, redwood burl and northwestern alder—to create elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces. “It’s not just wood furniture,” he says. “It’s art.”
See his work at bpsheelydesigns.com.