Kentucky Homes and Gardens Lexington May - June 2011 : Page 30

ART by Kathie Stamps FUNCTION A L R T A native of Bowling Green, Mark Whitley grew up on a family farm in nearby Smiths Grove. Armed with a degree in peace studies from Chapman University in Orange, California, he “wandered for about six years” after college before returning to Warren County in 2003. “I needed to quit paddling upstream,” he said, “and do what had always come so naturally to me… build stuff.” Whitley had grown up watching his dad build kitchen cabinets. As a child he learned the basics of measuring and planning. He got his first hammer at age six and at 15 his first paying job, which was refinishing an antique icebox for a neighbor. Since then he has built 150 to 200 pieces, mostly chairs, tables and other types of minimalist furniture. He enjoys working with cherry, ash and maple woods, with bronze and stainless steel as companion materials. “Walnut is my favorite,” he said. “It is kind to the edge of a chisel, finishes beautifully and in its natural oiled form can have great color, ranging from deep hues of browns and reds to purple and maroon.” Most of Whitley’s lumber comes from a small family mill in Bowling Green called The Woodworks. You won’t find any furniture from Whitley’s shop built with red oak, though. “Its coarse grain, unforgiving texture and foul smell are turn-offs,” he stated. “There is also so much cheap furniture built from red oak, I don’t want to be associated with it.” Sometimes Whitley designs on paper first, to work out the scale. “I have the ability to see a piece of furniture in three dimensions in my head,” he said. “I draw out the front-on view so the customer can get an idea, but everything else is in my head. I’m not sure how that works, but it does.” Any given piece takes a minimum of three to four weeks to complete. A large cabinet or table can require up to four months. “It can take an entire day to fit doors on a cabinet when the hinges I use allow for no adjustment,” Whitley explained. Furniture making is all about process, and the steps have to be done in a specific order. “Each piece can demand serious thought before proceeding,” he said. “I don’t want to cut a curve too early in the process and Made of cherry, maple and ebonized ash, this 48-inch tall “Spectrum Necessaries Chest” has 24 graduate drawers. It is part of a private collection in Owensboro, Ky. 30

Functional Art

Kathie Stamps

A native of Bowling Green, Mark Whitley grew up on a family farm in nearby Smiths Grove. Armed with a degree in peace studies from Chapman University in Orange, California, he “wandered for about six years” after college before returning to Warren County in 2003. “I needed to quit paddling upstream,” he said, “and do what had always come so naturally to me… build stuff.”

Whitley had grown up watching his dad build kitchen cabinets. As a child he learned the basics of measuring and planning. He got his first hammer at age six and at 15 his first paying job, which was refinishing an antique icebox for a neighbor.

Since then h e has built 150 to 200 pieces, mostly chairs, tables and other types of minimalist furniture. He enjoys working with cherry, ash and maple woods, with bronze and stainless steel as companion materials. “Walnut is my favorite,” he said. “It is kind to the edge of a chisel, finishes beautifully and in its natural oiled form can have great color, ranging from deep hues of browns and reds to purple and maroon.”

Most of Whitley’s lumber comes from a small family mill in Bowling Green called The Woodworks. You won’t find any furniture from Whitley’s shop built with red oak, though. “Its coarse grain, unforgiving texture and foul smell are turn-offs,” he stated. “There is also so much cheap furniture built from red oak, I don’t want to be associated with it.”

Sometimes Whitley designs on paper first, to work out the scale. “I have the ability to see a piece of furniture in three dimensions in my head,” he said. “I draw out the front-on view so the customer can get an idea, but everything else is in my head. I’m not sure how that works, but it does.”

Any given piece takes a minimum of three to four weeks to complete. A large cabinet or table can require up to four months. “It can take an entire day to fit doors on a cabinet when the hinges I use allow for no adjustment,” Whitley explained. Furniture making is all about process, and the steps have to be done in a specific order. “Each piece can demand serious thought before proceeding,” he said. “I don’t want to cut a curve too early in the process and leave the part impossible to mortise, or wait until too late to smooth a particular section of a part and have no room to maneuver a tool or a scraper.”

He crafts a certain number of pieces on speculation for exhibit. “These are very rewarding pieces to build because I am in total control of the design and function.” . Others are commissioned pieces, where a function must be met but Whitley still maintains creative and design control. “These are rewarding in the fact that I love a good challenge and I enjoy figuring out a new design that fits a particular home, its mood and incorporates my design.”

One project was a cabinet that had 24 graduated drawers, each with hand-cut dovetails and a different colored bottom. It took 300 hours for the drawer parts to be sanded, dyed and individually finished.

The design and building process of furniture making is an expression of Whitley’s artistic nature. He has an innate need to create and his work is the sum of experiences he has had and places he has been, mixed with curves and movement that feel right to him. “Each piece I build has a bit of my soul in it when it leaves,” he remarked.

Whitley’s artistic abilities take other forms on occasion, through chainsaw carving, playing the guitar and writing songs, and restoring a 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia Campmobile. He doesn’t describe his Creativity in a “nobody gets me so I’ll call myself an artist” way, but by taking notice of all that is around him and fleshing it out. “Sometimes the process is therapeutic, and sometimes I enter a project that seems insurmountable and I am changed,” he said, “and something fresh and unique is created along the way even though the process is demanding and difficult.”

Whitley’s wife, Melissa, acts as design consultant, sounding board and best friend while their two-year-old son, Briar, loves to be in the shop with “Daddy’s sticks.”

With a pile of awards under his belt, including the Award of Excellence three out o f the last four years at the Woodland Arts Fair in Lexington, the Best in Show for the last two consecutive years at the Ky. Crafted Arts Show in Louisville and steady commissions for furniture pieces, life is good for Mark Whitley. But he isn’t resting on any laurels, because the creative calling is a lifelong commitment.

Read the full article at http://virtual.angstromgraphics.com/article/Functional+Art/714522/68519/article.html.

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