Meg Flaherty: I had the recent opportunity to interview Vermont Woods artisan David Holzapfel, whose truly unique work with forgotten and "unwanted" hardwood treasures is showcased proudly in our online gallery.
David and his wife Michelle, another Vermont Woods artisan known for her exquisite work with objects and vessels, live and work in Marlboro, VT as they have for years. Their shared passion for hardwood artisanry led them to found their own studio in 1976, where Michelle remains fully employed.
David and Michelle are lucky in the time they are allotted to focus on their work. Although David has been an elementary schoolteacher in Marlboro for twenty odd years, the structure of the academic year affords him large blocks of unadulterated time to spend in his studio. And though holding two full time jobs can be exhausting, David admits "that there are very, very few studio furniture makers– and I know a goodly number– who are able to work full-time in their studios." In the roller coaster world that is the artisan furniture market, David is able to rely on his stable teaching salary when the going gets tough.
Like many of our custom furniture makers, most of David’s work is by commission; the process of collaboration is central to his work. Even the acquisition of his raw materials is a cooperative venture; David has formed a symbiotic relationship with local loggers who bring him bits of non-commercially-salable hardwood in exchange for a small supplementary income not otherwise available in the lumber market. This way he not only saves the wood itself and gives it new life, he can trace its history back to the exact plot of forest in which it was found, by someone he knows he can trust.
David has been associated with Vermont Woods Studios for a couple of years now. While he and Michelle continue to show in galleries and exhibitions from time to time, their main focus of marketing remains at home: at their studio, its website, and ours. Ironically enough, it is rare for David to receive any local commissions; most of his clients are from other parts of the United States and Canada. He says that VWS has made things easier for him, in that it "gets [his] work out to a new, interested and select audience."
For the artisan furniture maker, however, things are never simple. "The market is too thin," David says; "Ikea and other such companies will always be cheaper and take a larger portion of the pie," but "we keep moving on, responding to anyone who expresses interest and providing as much information as we can." Hopefully, Vermont Woods can provide a kind of extra exposure for its artisans that remains compatible with their marketing philosophy and principles. "It’s not like the hard-sell of a used car or kitchen appliance," David says; it deserves its own specific kind of marketing. What Vermont Woods does, we hope, is get David’s work into the eyes of a more specialized clientele, which will hopefully increase his business. David has said that, "Peggy’s vision for VWS is attractive to makers…. philosophically and business-wise, and the diversification she promotes is essential."
Thank you, David, for your time. I’m sure I speak for everyone who reads our blog that we are appreciative of the extra insight into your artistry and process!
As always, you can see examples of David and Michelle’s work– or commission new pieces from them– in the Custom Artisan Furniture section of our website. Happy shopping!