Starburst window top by Garry Smith

Starburst window top by Garry Smith

Meet Garry Smith, Master Craftsman

Last updated: January 7, 2013

Is there something about the U.P. that brings out the resourcefulness of its population?  Or is it just that the people who most appreciate its beauty and its unique qualities are naturally resourceful?  Many area artists and craftsmen are experts at taking a plentiful U.P. commodity and turning it into art that is not only beautiful but practical.  A shining example is Engadine artist Garry Smith whose beautifully designed and crafted wood bowls, centerpieces, furniture, doors, staircases, and more would stand out anywhere in the world.  It takes a keen eye and a knowledge of wood to spot a piece’s inner beauty and it takes a great deal of hard work and skill to bring that beauty out.  Because it is so labor-intensive, it has to be a labor of love.  Once the work is finished, the beauty is revealed for everyone to enjoy.

Garry Smith is a transplanted Yooper by way of California and downstate, who has lived in Engadine since going there on a deer hunting trip at the age of seventeen.  A consummate, almost compulsive craftsman, his love of and understanding of wood permeates every area of his life, his home and his environment.  The wood he uses comes from everywhere—his wood pile, saw mills, a stump by the side of the road.  His keen eye spots the potential in a chunk of wood and he patiently cuts, rubs and polishes until he brings it out.  He keeps it simple.  In most projects the wood is unstained, and its natural color and grain enhanced only by skillful cutting, laborious rubbing and a clear preservative.  Most of the wood is native to the U.P. and some is not what one usually thinks of as a medium for sculpture or furniture.  In every work, the wood is the star, in all its natural beauty, usually unembellished and with a simple design that doesn’t detract from the wood itself.  The result is a thing of beauty—almost of wonder.  It may be as small as a book mark or ring box or as large as a staircase, and it will be both useful and beautiful with the shape of the object acting as a frame to spotlight the natural beauty of the wood.   Smith’s wood craftsmanship fills his home, his workshop, his wife’s potting shed and, obviously, his life.  Furniture, floors, window surrounds, doors, cabinets, counters, workbenches, arbors, gates and fences are all of beautifully crafted wood.  When he’s not working on his surroundings, he crafts beautiful bowls, ornaments, centerpieces, trinket and jewelry boxes, mirrors and more that he sells on his website and in a limited number of art centers, including Alberta House.

Like many artists and craftsmen who love what they’re doing, Smith enjoys sharing his skills and communicating with other artists.  A few years ago he and a friend organized the Hiawatha Wood Turners Club.  Beginning with a meeting in his Engadine shop the group has grown to include members from Cheboygan, Onaway, Harbor Springs, Boyne City, Engadine, Newberry, Garden, Sault Ontario and Moran.  Members have a chance to share their work and to critique and learn from one another through demonstrations and the exchange of ideas. Smith says that the club has been a great inspiration.

The best overview of Smith’s work can be found on his website at www.superwoodworks.com.  The entire website is a treat, showing new work, finished projects—even steps explaining how a project was completed.  The introduction there encapsulates the scope of his work neatly:  

Handcrafted Custom made furniture, Custom Woodworking,  Jewelry Boxes, Jewelry Chests, Handmade Wooden Gifts. Most items are made with hardwoods such as Birdseye Maple, Curly Maple, Black Cherry and Ash. Also some of the other native woods to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan such as white pine and northern white cedar)

but it’s the photos that give one a sense of its quality.  Also on the website are photographs of the doors, staircases, vanities and other built-ins in his home, and of a pulpit he designed and built for the Naubinway Christian Fellowship Church.  The latest offering shown there is a series of intricately crafted Christmas, or all year round, ornaments.  Much of the work on the site is for sale.   If you see something you want on his website, there’s information there on where it is displayed.  If he still has it in his shop, there is ordering information there. 

For a real, literal feel, check out his work in one of his sales venues (the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, the Erickson Center in Curtis, the Bier Art Gallery in Charlevoix, the Freshwater Art Gallery in Boyne City, and Alberta House in the Sault) or stop by his workshop (W14099 E. Arlen Street, Engadine, MI 49827).  High resolution photos of his work are shown below.  If you are planning to stop by his workshop, call ahead first (906-477-6591) to make sure he’ll be there.   It will be an awesome experience, in the old-fashioned, literal sense of the word.

Works in Wood by Garry Smith
Click to see a larger version.

Cherry jewelry chest by Garry Smith

Cherry jewelry chest

Cherry jewelry chest, open by Garry Smith

Cherry jewelry chest, open

 

Tops of two workshop windows by Garry Smith

Tops of two workshop windows

Bathroom door, outside and inside by Garry Smith

Bathroom door, outside and inside.
Carved panels are basswood.
Door is ash.

Bi-fold doors of flame birch by Garry Smith

Bi-fold doors of flame birch

Black cherry cutaway bowl by Garry Smith

Black cherry cutaway bowl

Pulpit for Christian Fellowship Church in Naubinway by Garry Smith

Two views of pulpit for Christian Fellowship Church in Naubinway.
Wood is red oak and flame birch.

Back view of pulpit for Christian Fellowship Church in Naubinway by Garry Smith

Back view of pulpit.

Staircase of flame and curly birch, by Garry Smith

Two views of staircase.
Wood is flame and curly birch.

Staircase, another view, by Garry Smith

Staircase, another view.

Ornament of curly birch and black walnut by Garry Smith

Ornament of curly birch and black walnut

Ornament of curly birch and black walnut by Garry Smith

Ornament of curly birch and black walnut

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312