Jean-Claude & Talar Prefontaine on sharp knives, their backyard garden and the joys of not working 18 hours a day.
Q & A with Jean-Claude & Talar Prefontaine
How long have you been building furniture?
Jean-Claude: 14 years as a hobbyist, 31 years professionally
Talar: 31 years of furniture design and marquetry.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Talar: We have built many styles, from studio pieces to historical ones, as our clients have requested.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
Jean-Claude: When I was 20 years old I bicycled from Sherbrooke, Quebec to Vancouver in 42 days to take a six-week ESL immersion course at UBC.
If you were not a furniture maker, what would you be?
Jean-Claude: Dead from a daredevil stunt gone wrong, otherwise a landscaper.
Talar: Some other type of artisan – stained glass, quilting or baking.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Jean-Claude: Caliper, striking knife, special glue burnished chisel
Talar: OLFA art knife, metal ruler, masking tape
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Jean-Claude: Hand tools for the feel in the hand and power tools for their efficacy.
Talar: Hand tools
Figured wood or straight grain?
Jean-Claude: Figured grain captivates me.
Talar: Figured veneer – especially with light and dark areas that can be used for modeling form and showing shadows since I don’t use sand shading.
Jean-Claude & Talar Prefontaine
Made of nogal, wenge, claro walnut and various natural veneers. The inspiration came from an outing to Reader Rock Garden in Calgary when the Hosta plants were in bloom. (Photo by Jean-Claude Préfontaine)
This teak and tigerwood sideboard was commissioned by a client who wanted a piece for displaying carvings. The character was to be organic with an African flavour, as the client had spent several years in Africa. (Photo by Chris Thomas)
Quotes from Jean-Claude & Talar Prefontaine
Talar: I have three stations in my studio – a work surface/desk, an 18-drawer storage unit for small to medium sheets of veneer and a table for the laptop where I store the photos for marquetry subjects.
Jean-Claude: I built my 1000 sq. ft. shop when I moved out of a rented shop 24 years ago. It has a 10’ 4" tall ceiling, which is great for standing lumber. It has two large windows that look out on my garden and is well lit with warm fluorescent lighting.
Talar: I start my workday around 10:30, take a break in the afternoon to do some household chores and go back to work in the evening. I like to work late – I do my best work after 11 p.m. While doing marquetry, I listen to CBC radio archives – this helps me feel connected to the world, otherwise the studio can be a lonely place.
Jean-Claude: In my prime I was working 16 to 18 hours a day, five and even six days a week. Now that I’m getting older, assuming there is no deadline quickly approaching, I find myself taking the morning at a leisurely pace.
Talar: There are not that many tools used in marquetry, but my favourite is an OLFA art knife. Since the blade tips can break or become dull very quickly, I really appreciate my diamond file. My favourite technique is to use the window method of marquetry.
Talar: I have always been interested in plants and I find plenty of inspiration in our garden.
Talar: Because we work together, it is difficult to achieve a proper work/life balance.
Talar: To a certain extent the local area does influence us. We try to incorporate marquetry subjects which are found locally such as our “Flowers of the Rockies” series or the “Landscapes of Alberta” plates.
Talar: I am tired of furniture that is too curvy or sinuous, especially for legs. I suspect I have been influenced by today’s minimalism. As a style, I dislike post-modernism. In retrospect, many of these works look like caricatures.
Jean-Claude: I believe if we had a national juried exhibition that could draw furniture makers from coast to coast, taking place perhaps every two years in a different province each time, it would help familiarize the public to the work of our Canadian furniture artisan.
Talar: Favourite Canadian makers: Michael Fortune, Adrian Ferrazzutti, Robert Diemert, Reed Hansuld. Favourite International makers: Matthew Werner, Kristina Madsen, Silas Kopf and David Linley.
Talar: Since we are self-taught, we have relied mainly on books and magazines to learn our craft.
Jean-Claude: There is a fork in the road for studio furniture makers right now. Some are adopting a more robotic approach with CNC machinery and laser-cutting tools. Others are staying closer to the artisanal way of furniture making. To me the artisanal process will always have a more personal appeal.
Talar: The Studio Movement has become better established over the past decades, and its practitioners are blurring the line between art and craft.
Jean-Claude: What I dislike the most is the gluing-up stage and the quoting process. That’s when something can go wrong and often with no recourse.
Talar: The marquetry I am the most proud of was also the most difficult to execute. It is a 24" x 36" portrait of our long-time clients who have commissioned more than two dozen pieces of furniture over the 20 years we have known them. I’m happy to report that they were pleased with the results.