Woodworkers' visions on display

David Briggs
A piece by Bruce Mitchell showing in "Visions of Wood" features a chunk of redwood in various stages of finishing. Some parts are polished, others left raw, to show the connection to the original form.   

Kevin Clarke’s table in the exhibit “Visions in Wood” resembles a puzzle with missing pieces. Shallow triangles, rectangles and rounded edges are cut away from the surface, a design reflecting the state of the wood when he found it: twisted and warped sections of eucalyptus.

“I want people to experience something new—separate from sitting at a table and not quite describable—and then also to eat there, draw and paint, and spill wine there,” said Mr. Clarke, a Point Richmond resident whose work is part of the show of four woodworkers opening at Toby’s this Friday. “It’s interactive, it’s tactile, you could rest a plate on it. But it’s also a little wobbly in some places: you have to pay attention to the table.”

All four craftsmen, including Rufus Blunk, Bruce Mitchell and Ido Yoshimoto, make a living exploring the line between fine art and functional furniture and wares. Their contributions to the show include sculptures, drawings and wooden portraits as well as tables, benches and bowls. Each artist has his own style and preferred form, but they share a reverence for the natural form of wood—and find creative ways to showcase rather than discard its imperfections. 

The artists use wood salvaged locally: cypress, redwood, bay laurel, black walnut, eucalyptus and bishop pine. Property owners with a downed tree and arborists know whom to call when the wood looks worthy; the four also source material through a broker in Marshall, Evan Shively, and use what they find themselves. 

Mr. Clarke has family ties to Point Reyes; the three others live locally and have deep roots in Inverness.  

Mr. Blunk’s career carries the legacy of his late father, J.B. Blunk, an esteemed woodworker and sculptor. A key part of his own ethic, Mr. Blunk said, is giving local, second-hand materials a defining role in his creative process. 

“Depending on what you find, there are influences that should be incorporated into the design: maybe a crack, a fault, a beautiful natural feature, or maybe it’s rotten inside,” he said. “If you have a hard idea, something sketched out, and then you find a block that’s so-called perfect, and attempt it, there is still always something that happens—something irregular from the original plan. It’s basically an adventure.”

In fact, the ties to J.B. Blunk are strong for the entire group. Mr. Mitchell served as J.B.’s technical assistant in the 1970s; Mr. Yoshimoto’s father, Rick, was his assistant from the late ‘70s until J.B.’s death in 2002. Mr. Yoshimoto today lives and works on the same property where his father worked and where J.B. built his home, the 600-acre Bishop Pine Preserve on the Inverness Ridge. 

When Mr. Mitchell met J.B. when he was 19, he said he entered “an altered state, convinced that was what I wanted to do with my life.” Fifty years later, the Inverness Park resident is known for his craft. He has also helped promote other local artists, including by helping create Point Reyes Open Studios. Expressing oneself is just as important as studying one’s mentors, he emphasized. 

“Finding your voice: that’s the biggest challenge today,” he said. “A lot of it comes from not only studying art, art of the ages, but the art that inspires you, just draws you in.” 

He praised both Mr. Clarke and Mr. Yoshimoto, the youngsters in the group, for their experimentation. 

Mr. Yoshimoto spent 15 years working locally as an arborist before transitioning to full-time woodworking several years ago. With his deep understanding of the material, the rest came naturally. Among his recent projects are intricate wooden bars commissioned by restaurants, including one in Kyoto. Preserving what he calls the “living character” of the wood is an essential part of his philosophy. 

“Sometimes I leave the unfinished, chainsaw texture, and I try to sell people on the cracks,” he said. “That’s not just convenient, it’s because if it’s not perfect, and you fix it with epoxy and butterflies, it looks like a battle. If you let it crack, there’s no battle. You did what you did, and now the wood will do what it does.” 

Mr. Yoshimoto said that talking with the other artists in preparation for the show was like speaking a private language. “And wood was just the starting point,” he said. “There’s also a commonality in our local environment, form, and strict integrity in design.”


“Visions in Wood” opens Friday, Dec. 6 at the gallery at Toby’s Feed Barn, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. It will show through the month.