Posted on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 2:08 pm
INTERVIEW: WOODWORKING IN MICRONESIA
ECA+ artist and fine furniture maker William Hewitt was invited to teach on the small island of Micronesia this past summer. After he returned from his trek in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, he shared some of his experiences in a Q/A with ECA+.
What town/city do you live in?
Where is your studio?
One Cottage Street, Easthampton, MA How did you start working with wood? I went to David Powell’s Leeds Design Workshops in 1980 and 1981.
When creating custom work, how much influence do the clients have over the overall design? When I have a commission, customer input can be as little as “I’d like a bed,” to “Here’s a picture of a table I like.” Even in the case of the latter, customers want me to personalize their project.
What is the greatest challenge of working with wood? Do you have a favorite type?
The greatest challenge is avoiding mistakes on a complicated piece when there is no extra of that “particular material.” I don’t have a favorite wood- it depends on the piece.
How did you end up teaching furniture making classes in Micronesia?
The State Department contacted NESAW in Easthampton (where I teach classes occasionally) looking for a teacher for an Arts Envoy Program in Pohnpei Micronesia. Margaret from NESAW recommended me.
Did you utilize the local raw materials? What kind of wood?
One of the major emphases of the program was to utilize local lumber. In this case all the lumber was milled from fallen Mangrove.
Were the students novices or experienced wood workers?
Is furniture making a popular trade in Micronesia?
There were two of my group from the Keparingmangi carving tradition; otherwise people’s training was limited. Within the Pohnpeian community furniture making is nearly non-existent.
Did you bring your own tools and equipment or use regional materials? If regional, what are the differences? I brought no tools with me but I did bring two books as well as two drawings of projects I designed specifically for the program. Although the shop was reasonably well equipped, none of it had been properly maintained. It gave me a chance to show the group how to dress hand tools as well as how the power tools work. Did the students each create a similar piece or individual pieces? The students completed five low tables and started on benches. All were partly collapsible but were to follow the drawings I brought with me.
What is the standout moment of the trip?
Other than the AWESOME snorkeling, at our closing ceremony one of my students presented me with a beautifully carved dolphin fashioned from the Mangrove we used.
Are you planning on teaching any furniture making classes locally?
I give a couple of classes at NESAW- bending wood and hand cut joinery.
Images courtesy of William Hewitt.