Woodpalooza celebrates Whidbey’s woodworkers

— Created September 1, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The art of woodworking will take center stage this weekend at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, as the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild presents the 17th annual Woodpalooza event at Zech Hall. This free exhibition will be open Saturday through Monday from noon to 5 p.m. daily and there will be a “meet the artist” opening Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Approximately 20 wood artists are participating in Woodpalooza this year, which is actually an increase over the average of 16 to 18 participants. Organizers say the artists are ready to share the projects on which they’ve been working, but the show itself has had to make a few adjustments due to health and safety protocols.

“Things will be more spread out and we’ve limited it to smaller pieces to allow for more distancing,” explained Gary Leake, Guild secretary and a woodworker himself.

He said the past year or more has been a strange time. On the one hand, shutdowns closed galleries across the state, which was a big blow to those artists who display their work that way. On the other hand, the pandemic proved to be good for those in the repair or cabinetry business, according to Leake.

“After looking at the wall for six months, some people took their stimulus money and bought wall art or paint for the walls,” he said. “A lot of people remodeled interior-wise, so folks making closets or kitchen cabinets, for example, did alright. For most of us, I won’t say we were immune, but it was different. Did it give us more time to make pieces for Woodpalooza? Creativity and inventiveness bloomed and blossomed, but as far as getting pieces done, no.”

Marian Quarrier, one of five women participating in the show this year, said she was quite busy catching up with projects, although she was still putting the finishing touches on the mid-century modern walnut writing desk she will display at Woodpalooza.

“I found my woodworking became the most prolific it has been during the pandemic,” she said in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “In the beginning, I found myself turning to building outdoor wood structures. My partner and I doubled the size of our vegetable garden to 20-by-48-feet, with deer fencing and raised beds. Then we fenced in a large backyard for our dog with two large cedar arbors and double gates. Next, I built our floating double vanity in our master bathroom that we had been waiting on for over 10 years.”  

Quarrier said even after many years doing woodworking, she appreciates the opportunity to discuss projects and techniques with fellow Guild members.

“I love the camaraderie that the Guild provides, especially knowing that I’m not alone in this woodworking,” she said. “Although I’ve been building furniture for 14 years, every piece presents different situations that make me question ‘What’s the best way to do this?’ That’s when I turn to fellow Guild members to find answers. It’s nice because woodworkers generally love talking about wood, so I never feel as though I’m imposing!”

Leake said Woodpalooza, especially this year, represents an opportunity for artists to enjoy some friendly competition and the chance just to visit with one another and the public.

“Since most of us are one- or two-person shops, Woodpalooza is a great opportunity to get together and talk about things,” he said. “Otherwise, we can get isolated in our own world. This is an annual get together; it’s not our only one, but it’s the biggest. We try to do our best work to compete against each other. It’s the camaraderie. We really missed it for a year.”

Education is another big component of Woodpalooza.

“We use it as an educational time to talk to people about our work,” said Leake. “We can say, ‘See this piece, this is how it’s joined.’ We try to teach others, especially younger people and maybe get them to consider woodworking’s career potential, perhaps, or at the very least, as a hobby. We love that educational component, that’s what it’s all about.”

Woodworking has long been a popular hobby in the U.S. and around the world. Leake said he hopes the Guild’s efforts will help it remain popular.

“Unlike maybe, cars, woodworking hasn’t changed much for 300 years,” he said. “If you like working with your hands, it’s an easy hobby to get into.”

And both Leake and Quarrier said it’s a satisfying hobby as well.

“I love the design aspect,” said Leake. “Coming up with an initial design is a lot of fun. The next best thing is when you put that first coat of stain on that wood and you see the beauty of the grain. Finally, I enjoy when the finished product gets in front of customers. Those are the three high points for me.”

Really, [I like] the whole process, beginning with imagining a piece of furniture and starting to doodle in one of my many tiny art books that I have lying around the house, to wiping on the first coat of finish and seeing the richness of color and grain in the wood come to life,” Quarrier said. “That’s really the icing on the cake that takes away all the angst of endless decision making, planning and intensive labor leading to sleepless nights with sore, numb hands.”

Find more information on Woodpalooza 2021 and the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild at woodpalooza.com. See more work by Leake at GaryALeakeWoodworking.com and you can find out more about Quarrier’s creations at quarrierwoodworks.com.

“There’s always an element of surprise that actually draws a lot of people,” said Leake. “They want to see the latest creations. It’s the mystery of the unknown.”