May 20, 2018
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Woodwork in the woods

Wayne Hall spent a lot of time in his family’s florist business as a young man, but his attempts at flower arrangements didn’t always go over too well with his family.

The shop’s patrons, it seems, wanted traditional arrangements. Hall, however, didn’t like to create the standard flower bouquets.

“I used to get in trouble in high school because I was the one who pushed the boundaries to make the design more creative,” said Hall, now a well-respected wood furniture craftsman living in Orland. “But it was a small neighborhood community store and people didn’t always appreciate it. I teach 3-D design now and I have the students working with sticks, but I don’t tell them the kind of things I was told, how many of such-and-such flowers to use.”

Now that Hall is an adult, he can use any material, in any arrangement that strikes him, when creating furniture that is rustic yet elegant, complex yet spare.

In the last nine years Hall’s work has drawn interest from the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, which has included Hall in its last several “Work of the Hand” shows.

Now that “Work of the Hand” is celebrating its 20th anniversary as one of the largest and most distinguished craft-art shows in the state, CMCA has decided to name Hall one of five honored artists.

It is the first year CMCA has done such a recognition in conjunction with “Work of the Hand.”

“We chose artists that have distinguished themselves year after year, producing museum-quality work and are exclusively craft artists,” said Barbara Michelena, a “Work of the Hand” organizer. “They don’t do other things. They devote their entire time to doing their craft. It’s a profession, for them.”

The other honored artists are Camden’s Laurie Adams, a bookmaker; Morris Dorenfeld, who is from Spruce Head and creates one-of-a-kind wall hangings; Sara Hotchkiss of Waldoboro, who crafts woven wall hangings and rugs; and Jan Muddle of Cushing, who crafts silver jewelry.

CMCA was one of the first sites Hall displayed his work when he moved to Maine from North Carolina in 2000, and has enjoyed presenting his furniture at “Work of the Hand.”

“I was really pleased to find the show, and pleased they invited me back,” he said one recent afternoon in his tool-filled workshop, where there were wood chips covering parts of the floor, the sharp smell of varnish in the air and a radio playing in the background. “The whole center serves an important function in the state. I don’t go to Portland, or very rarely, and so that’s the closest serious thing to here, for me.”

“Work of the Hand” is juried and artists are chosen by a committee. Hall, who has taught at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and now is teaching part-time at the University of Maine, might have made it into the show as a sculptor. That’s what Hall did on the side while working as a house restorer in North Carolina.

His art career took a turn, however, after he took a class in chairmaking, and read a book by nationally known rustic furniture maker Daniel Mack. Since then, Hall has focused on his own furniture.

Hall and his partner, Carol Logie, moved to Maine in 2000 after years of vacationing around the state’s lakes. Logie is from Connecticut and wanted to be someplace with a winter. Hall was tired of carpentry and painting, and thought his rustic furniture had the potential to sell well in Maine.

They decided to settle around Bangor because they liked the fact that it was the last heavily populated area in Maine, and then drew a 20-mile radius on a map to find a town in which to live. And so they moved to Orland, approximately 19 miles from Bangor.

Hall found more than enough wood in the area to keep him happy.

Most of his inspiration, he said, comes from his walks in the woods to look for pieces of red maple, his medium of choice for most of his work. He chooses his pieces carefully, looking for both straight sticks and curved limbs and branches.

“I’m looking for both character and gesture in the trees, and I’m looking for some really simple straight lines,” he said.

Why straight and curved? The straight pieces are used for rungs or pieces that attach the chair or table together. Hall chooses those pieces, and then slowly dries them in a kiln so that they don’t shrink from moisture loss when they’re attached together in a chair or table.

It’s the curved branches that lend the dramatic element to a piece of furniture, Hall said, and make it come to life. Curved branches might be used in the arms of a settee, or in a chair that looks like it has little feet, as if the chair could actually walk forward.

“[The branches are] eccentric,” Hall said. “They have personality. It’s that alive part that’s out in the woods that I like that shows up in the furniture, where a piece of furniture will have a gesture as if it’s partly alive.”

Hall brings his precious finds back to his work space, where the wood is stored, often for years. One of the six pieces Hall will display at “Work of the Hand” this year was formed from a 200-year-old walnut tree that was cut down in North Carolina.

“I would say, so many people do what I’ll call twig furniture, but his work is so very well thought out, well planned, well made, very strong design,” Michelena said. “it’s just his design and his craftsmanship.

The arts of floral design and furniture making might seem to have little in common, but it’s not hard to see the influence in some of Hall’s work.

Hall makes tables with four legs, but recently he’s found he enjoys the look of tables he’s made, which are held up by a mass of long sticks. The way the sticks are jumbled together resemble the way the stalks of a flower arrangement might look in a glass vase, crossed over one another.

It’s clear Hall ignored that long-ago reprimand of arranging unusual floral bouquets. The 200-year-old piece of wood he’s using for “Work of the Hand” shows evidence of decay and insect activity, but rather than cover it up or remove it, Hall chooses to leave the flaws in his design for what eventually will be the top of a table.

“A lot of traditional woodworkers will trim all that away so that everything is under control,” he said. “But this is rustic furniture. I like being in the woods and what happens there, the insects, the decay. So I’m leaving a lot of myself into this when I leave part of what was there. And I think people will appreciate that.”

Admission to “Work of the Hand” is $5. CMCA will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the show. For more information go to or call 236-2875.

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