Furniture maker Kenton Jeske on enjoying other people's work, quitting your day job and why design trumps material.
Q & A with Kenton Jeske
How long have you been building furniture? I’ve been building furniture for 10 years, the last 3.5 years under my own name.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in? I think transitional, a term I just heard, might describe my work. I use traditional elements with flowing lines and sculptural design.
Figured wood or straight grain? I have no preference between figured or straight grained wood, but look to use each to their strengths in purpose and design aesthetic.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas? I’ve enjoyed tuned up old planes from others, but just have no time to do so myself…the robustness of the modern hand tool is pretty enviable and I love that many can be used straight out of the box.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes? My work to date mostly consists of flowing curves and I enjoy their feel, but geometric shapes are introducing themselves and they seem to have a home in my portfolio as well.
Favourite wood? My favourite wood the past few years is Cherry and it suits the work I have been doing superbly.
Least favourite wood? I’m not a fan of hickory, and neither is my jointer.
This white oak stool was designed for a couple in France. The color for the stool was mixed to match the colour scheme they had in their home. This stool is part of Jeske's 'Borderline' series.
Bell Chamber Table
Crafted for Louis Vuitton in Edmonton, this piece was originally designed with three arcing legs for a private client, but when Louis Vuitton requested that design for their boutique store here in Edmonton, Jeske adapted the earlier design to more closely resemble the dome of a bell chamber.
Quotes from Kenton Jeske
My shop, like so many of us out there, is a converted home garage. At 650 sq ft it is as big as I need/enjoy. I have done 10' dining tables in there without having to disrupt the placement of machines or my setup, so it's all about a minimalist collection of tools and machinery. I have reorganized the shop nearly a dozen times over ten years and probably will again very soon. There's always another square inch to recover!
My shop music is instrumental to the work I do. I like music that can become sustenance to me and the work going on in the shop.
One of my favourite tasks is carving out seats. I use a scorp, travisher and spokeshave to sculpt the seats and it's the best time ever.
One piece of design advice I would offer to anyone, including one I remind myself of, is to enjoy yourself.
Nearly all of my work comes through word of mouth. The Alberta Craft Council galleries in Edmonton and Calgary show and sell select pieces, and those few dear souls that find me online fill out the rest of my sales.
Canadian designer Stephen Harris has inspired me. His imbuya dining chairs and table for Alexander Wandich are stunning. Two American makers that I really enjoy following on Instagram are Evan Berding and Dean Pulver.
I love other people's work because it isn't mine, nor would I have thought of it. I like David Haig's signature rocking chair, or Yuri Kobayashi's Sui table, any of Dean Pulvers’ chairs...the list goes on, one last one...literally any piece from Adrian McCurdy.
The initial and arguably most significant influences on my work have come from the trifecta of Maloof, Nakashima and Esherick. As I progress it's Krenov to David Ebner, Gary Knox Bennett to John Makepeace and lots in between.
Being creative, original, and artistic in my work is of utmost importance to me.
Design comes first for me, the material second. The material is not overly precious to me. I don't need to sit with it for long to see how to use it. I think I use it well and to its appropriate benefit both structurally and aesthetically, always learning and watching.
I do look forward to getting past the design specs and into the shop. I am not a slave to the specs, but they take care to keep me on track.
Being a woodworker is my identity. That will prove to be a problem one day, but for now I have all my eggs in that basket, for better or worse.
When the hours of ones day are firmly within your control, when the work you are setting your mind and heart and strength to are invigorating and challenging and when all the risk of your God given work is yours to answer for, who needs motivating?
My most ardently stressed piece of advice to aspiring woodworkers is don't quit your day job; you'll need it! If your drive and passion and skill are going to take you somewhere then eventually you will be spit out of all other options. Until then the struggle is; the craft is calling and how will you respond.
I'm probably most proud of the work I have done with my Borderline pieces. The Borderline pieces consist, thus far, of a bench, button stool and step stool. They feature a stepped boundary line that divides the painted surface and the finely finished natural wood. That borderline is a detail that requires exactitude at the joints.
My future goals are not mapped out or definitive. I hope to continue challenging my existing work with the possibilities of what's to come. I'll keep listening for those curiosities that inspire and lead me to new places, people and ideas. I don't pretend to be in control of this at all.
Craft is a process not a destination. We learn by doing and doing requires repetition. That repetition will form a relationship between what you think, what you feel and what you do.
That is the fulfillment sought in work. The tasks that bring forth our ideas may be ordinary, even menial, but when looked back upon beauty was the whole journey.