St. Johns River by Heather Hummel

St. Johns River by Heather Hummel
St. Johns River by Heather Hummel Photography

Friday, September 28, 2012

Featured Artist: Jennifer Schwalenberg

Rather than a photographer, today we're featuring a unique artist. Welcome, Jennifer! 

I call this piece “Wind.” 

I knew I wanted to make a chair, but like every other rustic piece I make, I am subject to the curves, sizes, and shapes of the wood and never know what the end result will be.  The journey is constant.

When I placed these two driftwood branches alongside each other against the wall, they seemed to float away, perhaps taken by a gentle breeze.  They were delicate branches and although I knew the chair would be petite, I had to continue – the branches were too beautiful.

I found two beaver-chewed pieces for the front that were just as dainty as the back, and after extensive sanding, I attached both sides with six driftwood rungs.  I used traditional mortise and tenon joinery, so the body of the chair is completely free of any nails or screws: completely raw, just how I like it.  No stains or sealants either.  Just raw driftwood plucked from the Rio Grande that’s been sanded to a smooth, organic finish with subtle hints of lilac hues.

I was contemplating the upholstered seat when I was came across a stunning color of leather, my favorite color in the world: a smoky blue-gray.  It was prefect.

The result became “Wind,” a delicate chair with a strong statement. 

J e n n i f e r    S c h w a l e n b e r g

"I search for exceptional pieces of driftwood lying on the shores of the Rio Grande and reawaken their spirit into functional art."

I had my "a-ha" moment in May of 1999.  HGTV featured a bed made out of tree branches unlike anything I had ever seen; in contrast to the log cabin style, these were beautifully twisted, barked limbs stretching in every direction: raw, unruly, unrefined.  I felt an instant connection and thought, "I HAVE to have that bed!"  The very next moment I felt the chills and knew: "I have to MAKE that bed!"  After so many years of searching, in just a few moments I had found my passion.

I was living in L.A. at the time, so I drove to the beach that weekend, collected as much driftwood as I could find and cobbled together a headboard.  That was my start.

That same month Architectural Digest featured a stunning peeled log and branch bed on the cover of their June issue.  Interestingly enough, the artist, Daniel Mack, was a well-known rustic furniture maker who just happened to live a short distance from my sister in New York.  I knew I was on the right path.

I spent a week with Daniel later that summer, taking one of his basic courses, and found even more inspiration.  A year later, I left L.A. for the blue skies and breathtaking vistas of my dream town: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After experimenting for several years with woods such as maple, cottonwood, and aspen, I chose driftwood as my primary medium.  I love everything about it: its colors of sun-bleached grays, its story of journey through the river, and its distinctive characteristics of beaver-chewed ends and the colors that emerge upon sanding, stunning hues of lilac and green.

Searching for driftwood along the Rio Grande is an artistic process all its own, paddling in my canoe, exploring through piles that have settled on the shores to find just the right pieces that speak to me.  It's a thrilling treasure hunt and one of my favorite parts of the process.

In my studio, I begin each piece by selecting a branch that I see as exceptionally inspiring and rely on the natural curves and energetic flow to guide me. I use traditional mortise and tenon joinery and hand-cut dowels – and screws only when absolutely necessary.  I want my clients to feel that they are surrounded by an undisturbed piece of nature, so to further retain the life and energy, I do not use any stains or sealants.  The results are raw, organic, functional, modern, rustic pieces of art – and truly one-of-a-kind.

Santa Fe Artists Market (SFAM)
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
American Diabetes Association (ADA)

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