At Home in the Adirondacks 2013
The greatest gathering of rustic artisans in the Adirondacks
by Niki Kourofsky
A coffee table topped by a lake-and-mountain mosaic. Tiny wedges of wood and pinecones shaped into ﬂowers. Stone and antlers transformed into art. Even if rustic isn’t your thing, it’s hard not to be blown away by the craftsmanship on display at the Adirondack Museum’s Rustic Furniture Fair, in Blue Mountain Lake. This invitation-only exhibition has hosted top artisans from around the region and beyond for the last quarter century.
Furniture maker Barry Gregson, of Schroon Lake, has shown his work here ever since former museum director Craig Gilborn got the party started in 1987. That ﬁrst fair was just six craftsmen “talking shop,” says Gregson. But it’s exploded over time, in size—last September’s show brought 60 exhibitors—and quality. The artform evolved, Gregson explains, as makers met year after year and shared their innovations. “Seeing how good it could be, it stepped up the revolution of rustic,” he says. Now the Adirondack Museum event is what he calls the “biggest and most important show in rustic in the world.”
There’s something here for everyone, from sleek modern lines and Arts-and-Crafts simplicity to over-the-top twiggy and playfully quirky—like the “Raptor’s Rest,” a giant nest perched above a comfy reading nook by Saranac artisans William and Elaine Betrus. And there’s also something for every pocketbook, from a $20 rolling pin to a sculptural $9,000 bed by Wayne Ignatuk, of Jay, with square myrtlewood spindles mimicking a cracked-ice pattern.
In booth after booth the pros are eager to discuss their craft and the intimate relationship they have with their materials. “A lot of artists know the tree,” says Christine Krauss, of Native Woods, in Maine, explaining how their “rare spalted maple café table” started out as a 200-year-old tree blasted by lightning. Down the way, Leonard Fieber, of Beaver Chew Furniture, based in Michigan, chats about tracking those critters and stockpiling more than 10,000 artfully gnawed sticks for his creations. William Coffey, from Northville, explains that his delicately balanced, minimalist sink was the result of a lot of “trial and error.”
Though craftsmen from across the country make the annual journey to Blue Mountain Lake, last year it was the locals who won the day. Paul Lakata, of Caroga Lake, snagged the People’s Choice Award with a show-stopping wine cabinet crowned by a miniature steamboat—one that actually ﬂoats around a three-dimensional oil painting. It would be the ﬁrst piece of furniture he’d ever made, except he doesn’t consider it furniture. “It’s a piece of art,” he says.
L. Post Rustics, of Au Sable Forks, earned enough votes from fellow exhibitors to win the Maker’s Choice Award. For the Posts—Larry and Joann, with their children, Ryan and Jillian—making heirloom furniture is a family affair. The clan works out of a 1,500-square-foot shop, crafting custom hutches, clocks, bunk beds and just about anything else a client can dream up. Larry and Ryan handle the nuts and bolts—rather, the sawing and joinery—of construction. Joann, a self-taught artist, designs pieces and sometimes contributes oil paintings. And Jillian, who studied art and environmental science at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, adds carvings of plants, animals and other decorative flourishes. Joann says the result is always one of a kind.
The Adirondack Museum gathering “put us on the map,” says Larry. The Posts were nervous for their inaugural trip to the show, in 2009, worrying that they wouldn’t measure up to the veterans. But they were warmly welcomed into the community—and they won the People’s Choice Award that ﬁrst time out. Now, Larry says, the rustic fair is “the highlight of our year.”
Just down the hill from the museum, but a world away from the 1970s folk music ﬂoating through its campus, the shoulders of Route 28/30 are crowded with colorful vendors. There’s a carnival vibe here, with neon balloon-lettered signs, kitschy art and street-side sausage and peppers. A portrait of a dog with sad-clown eyes neighbors pack baskets, skulls, antique barrels and twiggy chairs. Chara Dow, a young woman from Rochester who’s showcasing beautiful driftwood and bittersweet-vine furniture, shares the sidewalks with metal chickens, handmade canoes and a bear-bordered toilet seat. Ken Klopp, from Holley, New York, loves the scene. He’s a teacher who spends his summer building ﬁne furniture, and he’s been making the pilgrimage to this place for almost a decade. “It’s the heart of the park,” he says.
It’s also where aspiring wood artists and weekend do-it-yourselfers can score the raw materials—birchbark, logs, slabs—to realize their visions. The intricate grains, the unique twists and knots and burls, it’s those elements that make a masterpiece. “That’s where we get our ideas,” says Barry Gregson. “I don’t even want to call my furniture rustic. It’s sculpture made with natural, growing forms.”