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Fine woodworking in annual exhibition

From a lavish loom to steam bent style, a range of fabulous furniture is on show at the New Zealand Centre for Fine Woodworking’s annual exhibition. The work of students on the full-time 32-week furniture makers course and other short courses the centre offered has been displayed at Nelson’s Refinery Artspace since December 16. Source: Stuff NZ

The centre, based at Wakapuaka, north of Nelson, is regarded as a “school of excellence” rather than a place to get a trade qualification and welcomes people of all levels of experience and walks of life.

Only one person in this year’s full-time course had previous experience with woodworking, while other finished products were made by a High Court judge and a university graduate.

“Some are doing it for professional reasons – they want to be furniture makers, for example – or it might be a teacher doing a bit of upskilling,” school manager Helen Gerry said.

Students make wooden chests in first term to familiarise themselves with basic design and machine techniques, before moving into curvature in term 2, trying their hand at stools and hall tables.

Term three sees students take on the challenge of chair making, before choosing their own project to push themselves.

Gerry said a four-day intensive drawing class with local sculptor Grant Palliser had given students a large dose of inspiration.

“He takes them down the Boulder Bank and gets them to make things out of driftwood and that really loosens them up.

“This year they’ve shown their uniqueness, and they have that confidence to follow what they want to do rather than just sort of trends they’ve seen.”

This inspiration allowed student Jacqui Tyrell to make good on a long-held desire to weave her own seat pattern, creating her own loom to go with her bianca chair design.

The 2020 course has seen a change in demographics on two fronts, with women made up three of the four full-time graduates.

The lockdown tendency of people discovering or reconnecting with their love of woodworking has been apparent, with an increase in New Zealanders also helping to fill the gaps left by the international students unable to travel to Nelson.

“It seemed everyone got into gardening or something but it was more about that satisfaction of doing something – people looked at their priorities and decided they needed to have that balance.”

The resulting creations appear too good to sit on or place in the hallway.

However, functionality is as important as aesthetics and each creation had gone through a laborious process to turn raw wood into a sturdy yet stylish product.

At the exhibition opening, Nelson mayor Rachel Reese chose Dave McFall’s Almost Love chair – made from New Zealand elm and American white oak – to receive the Mayor’s Choice Award.

The centre has also celebrated the success of two full time students who won awards in an Australasian furniture design and competition late last year.

From over 300 entrants, Ceri Aldiss was awarded winner in the student category of the highly prestigious Wood Review’s Maker of the Year competition for her table of American black walnut and American ash, while Deborah Fryer’s table from the same woods was highly commended.

Furniture Makers’ Programme tutor David Haig also won an award in the Bowls and Boxes category with a jewellery box commissioned by one of his clients and made from rosewood, koa and sycamore.

The next batch of students will begin their craft journey in April, with spaces filling up but still available.

The Centre for Fine Woodworking 2020 exhibition is on at the Refinery Artspace, 114 Hardy Street Nelson until January 16.