October 7, 2013

Maine rustic furniture maker lets nature take the lead

The raw materials at Randy Holden’s Norridgewock studio are likely to be roots and antlers.

By RACHEL OHM Morning Sentinel

NORRIDGEWOCK — Antique stores and daily walks are the inspiration for rustic furniture maker Randy Holden, who crafts six to seven unique pieces at his studio each year.

click image to enlarge

Randy Holden stands in his Norridgewock workshop next to a table he crafted. Holden recently won an award for best artist in woodworking at the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival in Wyoming.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

click image to enlarge

Randy Holden of Norridgewock creates unique furniture using the existing curves and characteristics of the natural wood. This table uses acorn shells as decoration.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Holden, 57, is one of just a few people in the country who make a living creating high-end furniture that incorporates raw materials such as roots and deer antlers and is inspired by nature.

“He’s brilliant. Probably in every state there’s a number of people who do it, and probably in the Adirondacks, where there is more of a tradition there may be more makers, but Randy really is known among people who are interested nationally,” said Peter Korn, executive director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, an educational center that offers classes for aspiring furniture makers as well as amateurs.

He said that although there are others in Maine who make rustic furniture, Holden has an unrivaled presence nationally.

Inside his Norridgewock studio, Elegantly Twisted Rustic Furniture, located miles down a dusty dirt road, is one of Holden’s most recently completed pieces: “Fallen Angel,” a three-tiered table of yellow pine and cherry that recently won an award for best artist in woodworking at the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, an annual 11-day cultural celebration that features art, music and culinary events and attracts thousands to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

The winning table incorporates the root system of a tree that Holden found near a reservoir in Skowhegan, moose antlers and deer antlers, and is an example of rustic – a style of furniture that rose to popularity in the late 1800s and traditionally uses raw parts of trees such as bark, branches, twigs and burls.

Today it remains a popular fixture of vacation homes and lakeside resorts.

“I think the enduring appeal is this idea of the connection to the land, living off the land and being independent. Over time I think it’s become associated with the idea of spiritual restoration, rest, relaxation and re-establishing that connection with nature,” said Laura Rice, chief curator for the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. The museum, in the Adirondack mountains, focuses on the history of the area and the relationship of people with the wilderness.

The Adirondacks are known for popularizing rustic furniture, although the style is not necessarily unique to upstate New York or even the United States, said Rice, who said it is something that is found across time in places that have mountains, woods and water. Rustic is defined by its inspiration in natural settings and incorporation of materials that reflect the environment, and it is rare for imported wood to be used, she said.

In the United States, rustic furniture rose to popularity in the 1870s, when some of the first camps started to appear in the Adirondacks and wealthy people began buying property for second homes, said Rice. The landscape became an important and defining feature of the country as more people migrated away from the major cities on the East Coast.

“People were looking for a place to escape to, to let their fantasies come to life – not just in their natural surroundings but in furniture and architecture as well,” said Rice.

Holden, a graduate of Skowhegan Area High School, worked as a carpenter making cabinets and doing woodworking in homes before he started making rustic furniture full time in 1994. He first became interested in the idea while traveling in California, where he became fascinated with giant redwood trees and started collecting driftwood, he said.

“That was the first time I ever thought to myself I could make a table. I could have a piece of furniture,” said Holden.

(Continued on page 2)

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