Curtis Erpelding

Curtis at his workbench

I grew up in Colorado where my family owned a camping ground. My father did all of the maintenance, from carpentry and welding, plumbing and electrical repair, to road work and trash hauling. Working alongside him exposed me to many skills and I learned to enjoy physical labor, to have a respect for tools and to take pride in performing the task at hand however mundane it might be. I don't remember a particular interest in wood (my main passion in high school was restoring sports cars and my degree from the University of Colorado is in English Literature) but my first job after moving to Seattle in 1975 led in an indirect way to an interest in woodworking and furniture design. As sales clerk and handyman-by-default at a large book store, I found myself building shelves, making shipping crates and repairing store fixtures, all of which sparked my interest in woodworking. At the same time I was living in a series of small, unfurnished apartments and decided to use my new found interest to make portable furniture.  
The confluence of woodworking and furniture design in my life had an unanticipated and surprising effect: I had found my career! From the beginning I was self-taught but I read everything relevant that I could find (working at a bookstore was an advantage). I also spent long, long hours in the shop. Putting in time with the materials and the process is, in the end, the only way to learn, whether you've studied with the best or struggled on your own.  

My design interests and inspirations have always been eclectic. Scandinavian modern design and traditional Japanese wood joinery as well as the classic styles of 18th century England and France are important influences. Architecture, both ancient and modern, informs my sense of proportion and use of ornamental detail. I love fusion. The challenge is to connect disparate elements harmoniously into a new look. For a time (my apartment dwelling days) I was interested in knockdown design. I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 to develop three knockdown furniture prototypes that would be suitable for manufacture. Although none of these prototypes were ever put into commercial production, I still continue to make the stacking chair and leaning bookshelf (designs that came out of the grant project) in small production runs at my shop and home in Port Orchard.

I enjoy working closely together with my commission clients to determine the function of the piece and to decide which woods and decorative techniques would best fit their environment. In many ways I find it easier to be creative when I am working within constraints. Whatever I am making, I strive to create furniture that fits contemporary life styles while representing the fine tradition on which the craft is built.  

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