A Woodworking Revival

 
Janet Hollingsworth, Picture by wesley Verhoeve

Janet Hollingsworth, Picture by wesley Verhoeve

Janet Hollingsworth doesn’t look like your stereotypical lumberjack. With a petite frame and the kind, bespectacled face of a librarian, Janet in fact spends her days cutting logs and crafting intricate wooden furniture.

But it wasn’t always this way. For many years, Janet worked as a structural engineer, while her partner Robby had left his job as a hair stylist to pursue oil painting. But then—like many other Americans in 2009—Janet was laid off.

Instead of trudging through a lengthy recession-time job search, Janet hit the reset button on her career. She thought of her grandfather, who had been making reproductions of early American furniture for over 50 years. He had never formally passed down this knowledge to anyone else, but she realized that her bad luck perhaps wasn’t so bad after all. She could be his apprentice.

“I felt pressure to find another job right away, but when I analyzed the situation with Robby and my family, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to study with a master craftsman that just happened to be my grandfather,” said Janet.

Janet and Robby, whose career as an oil painter allowed him to join his wife in this pursuit, began their apprenticeship. It was a grueling undertaking—twelve-hours days, a rigorous plan of study, and myriad projects. The six-month apprenticeship quietly stretched into a year.

 
 

Carving out a place in our throw-away society.

Janet’s grandfather taught her the traditional woodworker’s approach: think first about the needs of the wood.  To Janet, this felt like a natural application of her engineering experience: know the material before you design it. After the apprenticeship was over, the couple took their newly-learned traditional woodworking skills and applied them to a world teeming with composite wood furniture and cheap build-it-yourself home decor.

With this modern backdrop, Janet and Robby have been carving out a niche for themselves by using the materials around them, particularly woods that have been damaged or overlooked. “We believe anything can be beautiful,” the couple said. One afternoon, Janet and Robby saved a few logs of Russian Olive, an invasive tree species in Colorado, that were on their way to the landfill. “We mostly wanted to see what the wood looked like out of curiosity,” said Janet.

A few months later, the couple worked with a client who was interested in sustainably-sourced materials and a purpose emerged. From an undesirable beginning and a chance encounter, the Russian Olive was transformed into exposed wood countertops and a unique mantle piece.

 
Robby hollingsworth, photographed by wesley verhoeve

Robby hollingsworth, photographed by wesley verhoeve

 

Whether they wanted to or not, the recession forced the couple to start over and look at themselves anew. But out of their misfortune, they forged a new path.

And they found a growing place in today’s mass produced world for an old craft. Earlier this year, Robby and Janet launched R+J Fine Woodworking and have begun to take on public commissions. “I do see a revival happening where people are taking interest in the story and the people behind hand crafted goods. We live in such a throw-away society. I think fine woodworking and hand crafted trades are more important than ever,” said Janet.