On a sunny Colorado morning some weeks ago, Lucas and I made the drive to Jamestown, CO (just above Boulder, for those who may not be familiar) where we were lucky to spend the day with Glen Kalen, owner and artist extraordinaire at Kalen Woodworks.
Glen does all of his custom woodworking and artwork out of his off-grid shop on an acreage that was once lush with lodgepole pine. After a wildfire claimed his house and much of the surrounding forest in 2003, Glen rebuilt the cabin and his shop along with his partner, Joanna. The result of their hard labor is a beautiful straw-bale house, a year-round greenhouse (designed and built with steel by Glen), and an entire woodworking shop, all of which are powered with solar energy. I know what you’re thinking…heavy machinery? Solar? I know – impressive, right? As Glen explained to us, his work days revolve around the weather. Cloudy days mean hand work or shop maintenance, sunny days are for machine work. I love this idea of working not only with a medium that comes straight from the earth, but also working in cycle with the regional weather patterns.
We spent the afternoon hanging out in the shop, listening intently as Glen explained how he begins a project, how he goes about picking the perfect wood for a given piece of furniture, how much care is taken in each step of the process – the humidity, the density…there were so many variables I had never before considered – and how much time really goes into every piece. In a culture that is so addicted to quick, cheap, and convenient goods and services, the value of true craftsmanship and artistry seems to be slipping to the wayside. Luckily it looks like it’s just the “public” wayside, right? People still value quality. People value things built with love and intention and things built to span multiple lifetimes, unfortunately it’s just not seen widely in mainstream advertising.
I looked around at the set of chairs in progress in the shop. Each with beautifully striking curved features, parts of the seat that probably couldn’t really be seen unless the finished product was flipped upside down. The raw beauty in each and every square inch of the piece. I don’t know if I had ever really seen that kind of detail in furniture before. Sometimes when we create, it can feel like we are creating for someone else. What do people like? What do people want? We can get caught up in creating something we think someone else wants instead of creating something we love for the sake of creating art. Or even worse, we can end up creating what is trendy or mainstream because we think it will sell. Or even EVEN worse we create something we love but we half-ass it because we don’t think certain parts of it are important to others. Well, it’s all important. It makes a difference. Every step of the creative process. Every piece of wood, every shaving, every single grain – it’s all important and deserves equal attention. Glen seems to have mastered this. As an artist who has built his livelihood on creating beautiful commissioned furniture and art, it is evident that he has untapped some valuable secrets that allow him the joy of doing something he truly loves for a living. That, my friends, is pretty incredible, and a real inspiration if you ask me. Let’s just say his overall humble and warm personality punctuated with his keen sense of humor isn’t hard to be around, either.
Many thanks to Glen for welcoming Lucas, Junebug, and I into his home and treating us to a memorable afternoon learning about his trade, it was an absolute pleasure.