Jessica Wickham’s work is inspired by centuries of Japanese woodworking tradition. She spent 5 years living in Japan, studying hand tool techniques and meeting local makers.
“I had the opportunity to meet blacksmiths and toolmakers who create these beautiful, deceptively simple looking hand tools. They are sophisticated instruments – and mastering them involves learning how to tune and sharpen them properly, using waterstones. The hand plane, like the sushi knife or the long ago Samurai sword, becomes an extension of the craftsman’s body.”
Much of Japanese craft is about attunement and attention to detail. The Japanese are very connected to the seasons – and woodworkers are no exception. For example, when we mill a log into boards, it will behave much differently if it is milled in the summer, when the sap is actively moving through the upper part of the tree.
Taking some inspiration from the revered George Nakashima, Wickham’s aesthetic is that of pristine natural edged furniture.
Her well known nesting stools, with unusual sliding dovetail joinery, were a concept inspired by bath stools found commonly in public spas in Japan. They exude the characteristics that Jessica and her studio pursue in every piece; a focus on craftsmanship values, celebrating the original wood source and exploring characteristics of solid wood.
The collection is built from a single tree that is dead or downed within driving distance of Wickham’s studio in Beacon, New York, as are all of the custom furniture and smaller pieces produced at Wickham Solid Wood. “We try to find the piece in the wood rather than imposing a design.”
Jessica sees each project through from milling and drying of each log to the design and fabrication of finished pieces. The studio stocks an extensive inventory kiln-dried matched flitches from a diverse supply of hardwood species common to the northeastern deciduous forest. Often hand-picked by the client, local hardwoods are found and transformed into furniture or useful objects that have a sense of connection to the place where the tree stood.
Jessica also recently started a Japanese tool study group where 8 talented woodworkers meet to discuss trade insights and learn ancient tools of the trade. Check out their Facebook page to learn about upcoming projects and events.
You can also see the nesting stools in action at the Hudson Woods model home as part of the interior design. Stay tuned for more photos and a follow up story about Jessica’s travels in Japan.
Photo Credits: Meredith Heuer and Rob Penner.