ESSA unveils wood studio

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The ribbon flutters down after it's cut, officially opening the Eureka Springs School of the Arts woodworking building.

In Eureka Springs, art seems to grow on trees, and the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA) has a new wood studio to reflect that.

ESSA had a grand opening for the new Wood Studio Building, designed by architect Dave McKee, on Sunday, June 4. The event featured live music, a silent auction of works by local artists and woodturning demonstrations.

Kelly McDonough, executive director of ESSA, said the new wood studio is the culmination of the dreams of so many in the community.

“The school is founded on the tradition of artists who have been here for decades and decades,” McDonough said, “particularly in the spirt of Elsie and Louis Freund, who started the first school here in the 1940s. That spirit has been picked up and carried forward until the opening of this school in the late 1990s.”

She said the wood studio is the latest addition to ESSA’s growing campus over the last few years.

“We have grown from a school with no campus at all to a school with one building and one acre of land,” McDonough said, “to today, when we have all these dedicated studios and 55 acres. Now, we have the addition of this wood studio, which is a way to bring yet another community into our group.”

She said ESSA has a full slate of classes at the wood studio starting in just a week. The first one will be a woodturning class, she said, and the second one will be a beginners’ class for woodworking.

“Our woodturning class is already full. There is a great class coming up at the end of June that’s a beginners’ class,” McDonough said. “Even if you’ve never done woodworking before, the class is geared toward how to use all the equipment and safety practices. You also come away with a project you can take home. The class is only three days, so it’s easy for people to take.”

She said the wood studio also will host carving classes, furniture-building classes and more wood-turning classes over the next year.

“I really see this as a way to give people an opportunity to pass on everything they knew,” she said. “We have so many people with such a rich knowledge, and now they have a space to share it.”

Woodworker Doug Stowe, a founder of ESSA and a course instructor, said the building of the new wood studio took about 22 months from conception to completion. The dream of having a wood studio on campus, however, dates back to the origins of the school, he said.

“I think our founding was in 1998. I was one of the founders, and building a wood studio was part of the plan from the outset,” Stowe said. “At the time, we were a school without walls and would have our classes in individual studios owned by certain artists. We went from nothing to what we are now.”

He said the wood studio has a state-of-the-art design, even featuring a television monitor so students can see exactly what their teacher is trying to show them.

“The studio has a lathe room, a bench room and a seam room,” he said, “so we can have as many as three classes going on here at the same time.”

Of the classes to be held in the wood studio, Stowe said he will be teaching three himself.

“One is a weekend class on making boxes, and one is a class based on this book I wrote called ‘Making Classic Toys That Teach,’” he said. “I will also have a weeklong class on making tiny boxes.”

Stowe said he is excited to see the new wood studio finished because it will give students the chance to experience creating something with their own hands.

“I think people are so involved in their digital technology but are missing out on the tactile experience of creating something with useful beauty,” he said. “The idea of creating useful beauty- something that you can touch, hold and share with each other- is kind of at the core of this shop.”

The best part about making something both useful and beautiful, he said, is that the artists alter themselves in the process.

“You’ve gone from being a consumer of information to being someone who is actually making and producing something,” Stowe said. “There’s a real shift in consciousness and a shift in self-consciousness that results from being a maker of things.”

He continued, “Wood is such a moving material. It comes from the forest and literally grows on trees. It comes from out there and connects you with the natural environment in ways that some other materials don’t. To me, I think that explains the role this wood studio will have.”

Stowe said he believes the wood studio will be a place where people will make connections to the natural world, to their own creativity and to those joining them in learning.

“Those connections are really what it’s all about,” he said.

Mayor Butch Berry spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the wood studio, telling the board members and staff of ESSA that they should be proud of how much their campus has grown over the years.

“It is such an honor for me as mayor to be part of the time when this is coming about,” Berry said, “You’ve grown so much, and Eureka Springs is now recognized as an artist community nationwide. That’s something you all should be really proud of, and I’m proud to be here to celebrate the opening of the wood studio.”

Board member Suzanne Reed said she has been thrilled to be part of the process of creating the wood studio.

“I think this is a real boon for our community, and I look forward to many people taking classes out here and enjoying this great facility,” Reed said.

McDonough said she encourages people interested in classes at the wood studio to visit, call 479-253-5384 or pick up one of the school’s class catalogs.

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