Arts and Entertainment

Bainbridge woodworker slides into her new slot

Birgit Josenhans at work in the studio she shares with her husband, furniture craftsman Bob Spangler. See Josenhans and others in this month
Birgit Josenhans at work in the studio she shares with her husband, furniture craftsman Bob Spangler. See Josenhans and others in this month's 'The Wooden Box' exhibit at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts.
— image credit: Brad Camp

While her varnishes are flawless, Birgit Josenhans isn’t averse to scuffs.

“I’m not afraid of things. I’m not afraid of scratches. It adds beauty to it,” she said.

When they moved to the island years ago, Josenhans and her husband, master woodworker Bob Spangler, converted two old warehouses on Odd Fellows Road into living and working space. At the time, Spangler began building up his furniture business while Josenhans commuted to Seattle each day to teach high school.

Ready for a change, and with the business taking off, she left teaching and began helping Spangler in the studio, doing finish work such as veneers and varnishing.

“I’ve admired all the work all along, and I felt spoiled not having to do much with these incredibly beautiful things,” she said.

So like the curious and resourceful child she remembers being, she started digging around in the scrap bins to see what she could make from pieces destined to become nothing else in particular.

Her first creation was a rectangular wooden box with a sliding lid, made as a gift for her father. The grain and figure of the end piece she chose intrigued her, particularly for something so small; she thought it deserved to be framed.

That idea formed the design basis for a narrow lid, and with Spangler’s help, she constructed a box for it to top.

“I’m lucky – I have a wonderful teacher, the maestro,” she said.

Josenhans’ father was delighted, and the design is among those displayed as part of this month’s “The Wooden Box” show at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, which also showcases the work of Andy Caro, Shinichi Miyazaki, Dave Schweitzer and Dan Walters.

Josenhans moved on to other pieces including cutting boards; tiny cabinets; teacup warmers ingeniously crafted from blocks of wood and bent nails; and small nested benches that can be used for anything from footstools to children’s table and chair sets.

While these pieces are relatively small, visitors to the Spangler Furniture Studio will also find larger pieces in progress, such as a Shaker/Chinese/German-inspired cabinet Josenhans designed to hold cookbooks and notebooks in her kitchen.

The scale of that piece has underscored a notion that Josenhans appreciates, both as a teacher and as a continual student of her new craft: the gift of being able to conceptualize and carry out a long sequential process, and to accept help and tutelage – in this case, from Spangler – as she does it.

Because designing and building a full-sized cabinet has been a more complex process than she ever thought she could tackle, the thought that she’s actually doing it is heady.

“Just the applied math that I’m learning – these are just incredible things,” she said.

And of course, at the end of the process, she’ll have a work of art that she can scratch, scuff and put to its intended use every day.

That’s the enjoyment she hopes that BAC patrons derive from her pieces, as well.

“If you’re lucky, it’s beautiful. And if you’re even luckier, someone else thinks it’s beautiful,” she said.

Box it up

“The Wooden Box,” along with “Tools,” hangs at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts through September. See www.bacart.org

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