A garden bench made by Paul Jurutka of Maine Rustics. Credit: Paul Jurutka | Maine Rustics

Paul Jurutka was working as a cabinet-maker in Kingfield in the mid-’80s when he started noticing something unusual.

He had come to Maine with the wave of back-to-the-landers the previous decade and hadn’t intended to let his vocation affect his personality. But that is what was happening. Cabinet makers, good ones, need to take careful measurements and be meticulous about how they put the pieces of wood together.

“Everything was very precise, and after a while, you start thinking like that,” he said, adding that after a while, he came to a realization. “Wait a minute. This isn’t me.”

Jurutka, who now lives in Belfast, decided to take some steps to counteract the creeping precision affecting his mindset. He read an article in Mother Earth News, that bible of hippie do-it-yourselfers, about bent willow furniture, and became intrigued by the possibility of eschewing right angles and processed lumber for organic shapes and natural materials. He went to a rustic furniture workshop in the Adirondack Mountains in New York, and learned more about how to use wood that is easier to find in the Northeast, such as alder saplings and twigs, to make garden trellises, tables, chairs and other types of furniture. And although he continued on making cabinets, he also became known for this other style of woodworking.

“There’s no right and wrong here,” he said of rustic furniture. “It’s about using your creativity.”

Jurutka found that the furniture he made with saplings and twigs was popular in the mountains of western Maine, and he began to show others how to practice this old-time folk art form themselves. For many years, he did demonstrations at the Common Ground Fair, and also taught classes in rustic trellis making. Although he loved living in Kingfield, he relocated to Belfast in the mid-1990s so he could be closer to his children, who lived in Camden with his former wife. He also transplanted his business to the coast. Over the years, he has made some changes to the way he makes his Maine Rustics pieces, but the organic nature of the beds, tables, chairs, arbors, trellises and other furniture has remained the same.

“No two pieces are alike,” Jurutka said.

These days, he no longer uses alder saplings much, in part, because he found that collecting them exposes him to too many ticks. Instead of alder, he uses a lot of poplar, maple and cedar in his pieces. He also keeps an eye out all the time for interesting finds, such as wood with an unusual bend to it. After the Ice Storm of 1998, he spent two weeks in the spring collecting bark from the downed white birches he had seen on Appleton Ridge in Knox County. He flattened and saved the bark he found and, even 20 years later, is still using birch bark from his stash for his furniture. In the workshop he rents in Belfast, cedar and other types of wood are stockpiled to be used when needed. In a way, the wood he collects speaks to him, giving him ideas of what it will become.

In addition to the Adirondack-style rustic furniture that uses saplings and twigs, he also has been working with reclaimed wood. A low coffee table he built uses flooring from an 1840s-era house that he found in a Bayside dumpster.

“I jumped in and rescued it,” he said. “Otherwise this would just be in a transfer station somewhere.”

Jurutka, who prefers not to share his age, is in the time of life that many choose to retire. He does carpentry and furniture making only part time now.

“It’s something I’ve just been doing my whole life, and I can’t stop,” he said. “I enjoy it.”

In his own home, there are plenty of rustic pieces, including a lamp fashioned with twigs, a large piece of birch bark hanging on the wall like a painting and a clock framed in varnished saplings. The pieces remind him of the mountains he loves and make his house feel special. That’s something that rustic furniture does better, sometimes, than perfectly finished, precise furniture, he said.

“It incorporates nature into our living space. It brings a sense of tranquillity, when we bring nature into our home,” Jurutka said. “And it brings a sense of connectedness, just having twigs in your house and birchbark on your wall. That’s what I like doing.”

For more information, visit www.mainerustics.com or call Paul Jurutka at 207-338-3663

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