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    Justin Nelson – Fernweh Woodworking

    Justin Nelson – Fernweh Woodworking

    1. Where were you born and where are you from ?

    I was born in upstate New York, but grew up in Indiana. After college I moved to the west coast of the USA, and have lived in Oregon since 2014.

    2. What is your first memory connected to the art world ?

    I took years of classical piano lessons as a kid, but I was quite taken with jazz early on – I was intrigued by an art form that was impromptu, innately responsive and interactive.

    3. Have you always worked in the art/design field ?

    Very much no! I have a business degree from Purdue, and then I joined the Marine Corps for 4 years, including one deployment to Afghanistan where I worked closely with an Afghan Police Officer, coordinating training courses for his officers. After that I joined a wildfire hotshot crew in the Pacific Northwest… all that to say, I very much stumbled into the art world, but I couldn’t be happier!

    4. What led you to the design creation ?

    I started to be interested in woodworking, which after a few years led me to the world of design. I’ve always enjoyed thinking outside the box; in the world of cabinetry, that became quite more literal as I became interested in compound curves and organic shapes in wood.

    5. How would you describe your creative process and it influences ?

    I go through cycles of work which I really enjoy, because it keeps things fresh but I get to focus on one arena in a cycle. So for instance, when I’m starting a new collection design, I just let my creative curiosity drive me to try new things and ideas and concepts until a furniture design idea starts to emerge. Then I have to buckle down and try to wrestle the more ethereal idea of the concept into a rough shape. Then comes the very long and laborious process of building jigs and refining processes with a view towards small batch production. That’s all the design process; after that comes months and years of dialing in the production processes and refining our small shop efficiencies. Once we feel comfortable with where we’re at with a furniture collection and the shop woodworkers are handling all the production, I start the process over. For me, the design and the production of the design go hand-in-hand. I’m not really that interested in producing one-off art pieces; I enjoy the process of creating a furniture piece that is also able to be efficiently manufactured reliably, always in our own shop from start to finish. The furniture design itself is just a piece of the entire process.

    6. Could you describe a typical day of your work ?

    My daughter joins me in the studio on our property for about half and hour, then I walk her to the bus stop down the road. I typically meet with my employees and discuss production calendar items to be sure we’re all on the same page with production timelines, shipping logistics, new orders… etc. Then it totally depends! Recently most of my time has been taken up by onboarding new machines into the shop and creating new processes to increase efficiency; but other times I love to jump into the production process beside our woodworkers. I rarely get a full chunk of uninterrupted woodshop time, but I do really enjoy the days when I can settle into batch work on the lathe, for instance, making dozens of chair legs, and turn on a good audiobook!

    7. Why did you choose the specific materials you work with ?

    Wood is such a beautiful but unforgiving material as it wants to expand, contract, and do unexpected things. It constantly frustrates me, but I can’t imagine working primarily in any other medium. It’s just so alive; I’m obsessed with it.

    8. What are the technical particularities of your creations ?

    A couple years back we took a deep dive into dialing in the moisture content for certain joints in our chairs. After extensive testing of sample joints in both very dry and very humid environments, we now keep a “hot box” cabinet (about 105 degrees farenheit and 9% RH) stocked with certain chair parts. When we’re ready to use them, we pull them out first thing in the morning, let them get to room temp, and then do all our joinery cuts and gluing to install them permanently; after that they just continue to expand and naturally tighten those joints until they reach a normal relative moisture content! It’s been a super nerdy process to dial in factors like that in our furniture, and so fun and rewarding.

    9. What advices could you give to beginning artists who would like to create sculptural design works ?

    Follow your passion! If it’s an artistic endeavor, don’t worry about creating something because it will sell; worry about creating something because you think it’s beautiful and has value – If you’re right about that, it will probably sell… but selling isn’t the main thing. Creating is the main thing.

    10. If your works had to belong to a design movement, in which one would you define it ?

    I hope we are seeing a movement of people who want to make high end batched furniture in the USA, not for the sake of nationalism, but because we have lost the joy and creativity that enters a human through the process of making. I’m thankful to be a part of that ongoing movement; we’re thankful to be right here, right now.

    11. What designers have influenced you ?

    Sam Maloof was the first sculptural woodworker I was ever exposed to. I was immediately intrigued, and I love his passion, kindness, and work ethic. Then I discovered the Danes: Hans Wegner – everything he did was beautiful, and I really admire how he partnered with manufacturers to make his designs accessible without sacrificing quality. Although he didn’t produce the pieces himself, he had a deep understanding of the technical aspects needed for production. Finally, Finn Juhl – he had such playful, lavish curves and details in his furniture while avoiding any sort of overdone gaudiness.

    12. What contemporary designers do you appreciate ?

    Nick, from Hamilton Holmes in Toronto is always one of my favorites. I met him first at the Architectural Digest show in 2019, and I admire how great he is at balancing running a full woodshop, and still being incredibly creative, trying new materials, finishes, and styles.
    Bern Chandley from Melbourne – his timeless take on the Windsor chair captivates me.

    13. What contemporary artists (in any kind of art) have you been inspired by ?

    14. If you had to summarize your creations in one word or sentence, what would it be ?

    Mindfully made, inspired by the past, dedicated to the craft.

    Proust Questionnaire with very short answers (one or a few words) :
    (The Proust Questionnaire is a set of questions answered by the French writer Marcel Proust. Other historical figures who have answered confession albums are Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Cézanne…)

    1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

    The end of a productive day making beautiful things, but I’m headed inside to be with my family.

    2. What is your greatest fear?

    To waste my life

    3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

    4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

    5. Which living person do you most admire?

    6. What is your greatest extravagance?

    My work.

    7. What is your current state of mind?

    8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

    To have great commercial success. To clarify, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just not as important as our society makes it out to be.

    9. What is the quality you most like in a man ?

    10. What is the quality you most like in a woman ?

    11. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


    12. Which talent would you most like to have?

    Play the Cello

    13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

    15. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

    Duh… a chair… but which one?!

    16. Where would you most like to live?

    I’m pretty content with our little corner of rural central Oregon. Snowy mountains and high desert.

    17. What is your most treasured possession?

    18. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

    19. What is your favorite occupation?

    20. What is your most marked characteristic?

    21. What do you most value in your friends?

    Willingness to join me for early morning diner breakfasts

    22. Who are your favorite writers?

    23. Who is your hero of fiction?

    Ransom, from C.S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy

    24. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

    25. Who are your heroes in real life?

    26. What are your favorite names?

    27. What is it that you most dislike?

    To be told “You should go on SharkTank”

    28. What is your greatest regret?

    29. How would you like to die?

    30. What is your motto?

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