Rustic chair by Barry Gregson, carving by Jillian Post; photographs by Carrie Marie Burr
Every fall for more than 30 years, the Adirondack Experience, in Blue Mountain Lake, has hosted the best in classic and contemporary rustic art. Meet some of the showstoppers featured at this year’s Rustic Furniture Fair.
Barry Gregson Rustic Furniture, Schroon Lake
“Functional sculpture” is what Barry Gregson calls the pieces he makes using materials from the woods. “The find makes the fashion,” he says, and these days a finished piece is likely a chair, one that appears to have pushed up from the earth itself, elegantly gnarled.
“I really love making chairs and get a kick out of supporting the human form,” says Gregson. In the 42 years he’s been crafting rustic furniture, he’s put a lifetime guarantee on everything he makes. “Now that I’ve got my gray hair and I’m 70, people kind of say, ‘Well, big deal,’” he laughs. But “fussed-over furniture takes a long time to make. The first priority is durability, the second is comfort and the third priority is looks.”
As a kid growing up in Warrensburg’s Pack Forest, Gregson learned how to manipulate reeds into kites. He made boomerangs, airplanes and sailboats. That launched a love of working with natural materials—eventually native stone—and as a career-mason, Gregson estimates he built 100 fireplaces and 100 retaining walls. Then in 1983 Craig Gilborn, former director of the Adirondack Museum (today’s Adirondack Experience), saw a birch cabinet that Gregson had built for Elk Lake Lodge. Gilborn asked Gregson to give a demonstration of his new hobby at the museum. It was a hit. Gregson returned year after year and then, in 1987, Gilborn organized the first Rustic Furniture Fair in Blue Mountain Lake.
“There were five or six of us [makers] there,” says Gregson. “Nobody sold anything”—it was more about showing your work and sharing ideas. In the museum’s Bull Cottage, they saw pieces by rustic artists such as Ernest Stowe, who in the early 20th century made extraordinary furniture—a birchbark sideboard embellished with birch twigs, a hat rack with beveled mirror circled by a half-dozen angled deer-hoof hooks. “We realized what was possible and took it from there,” he says. By bringing us together, “Craig really upped the evolution of rustic.”
Gregson has been to every Rustic Fair since the beginning. And “the evolution has continued,” he says. “That’s because everybody who comes has special talents and they bring fresh ideas. I hope that never stops.”
L. Post Rustics, Au Sable Forks
“When I was eight years old,” says Jillian Post, “I asked for a woodcarving set. Responsible parents don’t give their kids razor-sharp tools,” she laughs. “But when I was in college, I got summer work at the Indiana Dunes National Park. The night before I left, my mom put a carving set and some basswood in my car. I sent my parents pictures of what I’d made. My mom said, ‘I think there’s a place for you in the business.’”
That business is L. Post Rustics, launched by Jillian’s father, Larry, after he’d suffered a brain injury from a ski accident. He had looked to his workshop for rehabilitation, building guideboats and cedar-strip canoes, eventually transitioning to furniture. His wife, Joanne, a painter, joined in, and their new enterprise took off.
Jillian had planned a career in botany, but, she says, “carving made sense to me. It seemed intuitive and I felt I could get better—both my mom and dad supported me in that.”
Then her brother, Ryan, came on. “He always liked working with his hands—and it was almost like an orchestra, all of us with different parts, working so well together,” says Jillian. “I don’t know if it’s something in the blood, but we both understand” how to do this. And when you work with your family, “there are no office politics. You can’t stay mad. If it’s not good, they’re going to tell you and you need to fix it.”
Lately, says Jillian, Ryan’s doing more of the furniture design and construction, and “at this point I’m still learning—I’ll always be learning. But after a decade of doing this, I have a basketful of skills so I can be more playful and joyful and expressive with my work. I get to explore a little bit more.”
That translates to marvels like the rustic bed Jillian recently completed, with 14 carved owls and owlets—saw-whets, snowies, screeches, great horneds, long-eareds. “It involves a lot of going down rabbit holes to understand things like habitat,” she says. “Each carving has its own research paper behind it.”
For all of the Posts, working as an ensemble is “a way of life,” says Jillian. “We’d all be close if we didn’t have this business, but we have these discussions and disagreements and then pride in our finished pieces—it makes us even closer.”
And the future of the business? The talents of yet another family member might appear in upcoming L. Post Rustics creations. Jillian recently married Julien Feller, a woodworker from Belgium. “He makes wood into lace,” explains Jillian. “His work is soft and intricate and ours is rustic and earthy—it’s a great juxtaposition.”
Schrader Studio, Johnstown
“All of my pieces cycle into an infinity like nature,” says Tyler Schrader. “Things morph and change. I live in the foothills, but I’ve hiked a lot, sometimes in the High Peaks. Making a sculpture is a lot like going on an adventure in the mountains and the forest—I want to explore.”
Schrader, born and raised in Johns-town, says that “rustic” is where he started as an artist, and that it’s “been a huge influence.” As a kid he’d assist his grandfather, Peter Rampp, who built rustic furniture and bows in Wells. Schrader studied painting at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and then, while working part-time for Johnathan Swartwout, of Fisher of the Berry Studio in Johnstown, learned to harvest bark and twigs, and fashion twig-work onto rustic-style pieces.
Next stop was SUNY Purchase. “They had a lovely woodshop and I discovered how to bend wood, how to paint with wood, and started fooling around with different scrap woods and assembling them in different ways.”
He realized the possibilities were endless.
Today, Schrader makes installations, most recently at Electric Forest, an annual music and arts festival in Rothbury, Michigan. That work incorporated what he calls a “plant wave” that can detect electrical variations in plants, translate them to sound and then ultimately to vibrations you can feel, for a full-body sensory experience. But he also makes sculptural pieces, seemingly impossible swirls and loops of intricately crafted elements that fuse into funky tables or works to exhibit on tables. His assemblages are kinetic, like nothing you’ve seen before.
Schrader’s focus, he says, isn’t necessarily about perfecting dovetails, but stepping out of the boundaries of traditional woodworking, even “breaking the rules.” Materials are recycled wood that he “puzzles together,” plus metal, glass and precious stones such as labradorite and tiger’s eye. (His brother, Brett, is a jeweler; he and Tyler often collaborate, including on a line of wearables.) He also uses leather. Nearby Gloversville has long been the epicenter of the glove-making industry and is the place for scraps.
Johnstown, where Tyler established his Schrader Studio, is also the home of artist Barney Bellinger, of Sampson Bog Studio. “Barney’s been a tremendous influence on my artistry outlook over the last few years,” says Tyler. “When I need inspiration I go to his studio, talk to him, look around and leave there with a better idea of what’s going on in my head.”
ADK Rustiques, Canton
“My dad was an outdoorsman and he’d take me to hunt and fish around Russell, where we lived,” says Larry Jenne. The woods was my safe place, where I could get away from the world, where I could explore and see what nature created. That’s where rustic furniture and I would fall in love with each other.”
Jenne spent his career as a teacher and, eventually, a principal in North Country schools. In summer he could focus on making rustic pieces, a hobby that started in 1993 after attending the Rustic Fair at the Adirondack Museum. “I just loved this stuff,” he says, “and I had to make my own because I couldn’t afford to buy any of it.”
Jenne’s spin on the genre is a rustic and antiques combo: ”I take old, found objects and twig them up,” he says. That means pairing hardwoods such as spalted maple, hickory, black walnut and butternut with toboggans, snowshoes, sled runners and skis to make one-of-a-kind mirrors and tables and wall-hangings. His most popular pieces, though, were inspired by his love of cycling and interest in reusing bike rims that had been discarded. As a casing—a canvas, really—for swirls of hardwood, he repurposes them into clocks, “The hottest thing since sliced bread,” he says.
Jenne makes custom work, too, which brings different projects like tables and benches. But he insists he’s not an expert. “I don’t call myself a master craftsman,” he says, “it’s just a passion for me. I love to work with wood.”
Lately he’s been focused on driftwood. “I took my canoe to the St. Lawrence River and I filled it with big stumps I found laying around.” Back in his Potsdam workshop, “I followed the root system of one of the stumps, shaved off the roots and now it hangs on the wall—it’s just so beautiful.”
Jenne says he also travels local roads, stopping when he sees a fallen tree. “I get so excited and ask the property owner what they’re going to do with it.” In the case of a hollow black locust, he took it back to his workshop and turned it into a series of mirrors with a lacquer finish.
And then there’s the yellow birch burl he found on his hunting club land that he brings to every furniture show. “I put it in front of my booth—it looks like an oyster and kids love to play with it.”
But Jenne’s triumph happened last year, his first time as a vendor at the museum’s Rustic Furniture Fair. “It was such a special moment,” he says. “Back when I was there in the ’90s it was a dream to be [one of the makers] there. I came full circle, finally achieving that goal 30 years later.”
This year’s Rustic Furniture Fair is September 9–10, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. The fair is included with the price of admission to the museum. The following artisans will be at this year’s fair:
Kyle Hall, Hall’s Stick Furniture & Signs
Gary Pierce, Chipman Woodworks
Ken Kenia, Mad River Antler
Chris Mays, Vine Valley Rustics
Bob & Linda Jones, St. Lawrence River Decoys
Ted Keenan, Keenan Family Rustics
Gary & Barb Casagrain, Casagrain Gallery
Bob Stump, Robert Stump Studios
Barney Bellinger, Sampson Bog Studio
Jim Schreiner, Great Sacandaga Designs
Barry Gregson, Gregson Rustic Furniture
Larry Jenne, ADK Rustiques
Jeannette Brandt & Mike Parwana, Chicken Coop Forge
Paul Lakata, Paul Lakata Artwork
Anto Parseghian, Abiding Branches
Frank Hamm, Frank Hamm Co.
Dave DeVoe, Out of the Adirondacks
Bob Brown, Brown Enterprises
Rick Pratt, Around the Bend
Randy Holden, Elegantly Twisted
Gary Chudzinski, Fauna on Flora
Jamie Sutliff, Cold River Studio
The Post family, L. Post Rustics
Josh Bishop, Josh Bishop Art
Russ Gleaves, Hope Falls Rustic
Michael Barber, The Rustic Cottage
Johnathan Swartwout, Fisher of the Berry
Edward J. Knapp, Watson Woodworking
Johnathan Sweet, Neal + Sweet, LLC.
Mark Wood, Mark Wood Art
Wayne Ignatuk, Swallowtail Studio
Tyler Schrader, Schrader Studio
Andrew Thompson, Andrew Thompson Art
Matt Faupel, Missouri Nature Art
This article was created in collaboration with Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake (518-352-7311, 9097 Route 30).