November 9, 2023

Please join us on Thursday, November 9th at 7:00pm in the 151 Montague Street Gallery for the opening of “Dawn to Dust” by James Constable.

35 years ago (more or less) I started down three paths. I met Jennifer and we started a family; I started to actively study martial arts, primarily Aikido, and I began my first (of two) furniture making apprenticeships. Somewhere in there I realised that a three-legged stool was the perfect analogy for my life – Family, Aikido, Woodwork, with each leg informing and supporting the others.

Over the years most of my work has been commissioned and I have been lucky enough to build many beautiful things, from houses to the furniture that goes in them, always working in collaboration with lots of inspiring clients. However, I recently had a chance conversation that got me thinking about what I call “the bold act of being an artist”, creating things that I felt inspired to create. That conversation was the seed for this show; it began with an idea to build several small cabinets and branched out to a few furniture pieces as time and inspiring bits of wood allowed.

The motivation behind the cabinets as a starting point was twofold. First, I saw an article about a woodworker who gave himself a design task to make 52 boxes in 52 weeks to see what ideas came up over the course of a year. This was an interesting concept, so I tweaked it a bit and chose wall cabinets instead as an homage to one of my inspirations – James Krenov (now deceased) – who was the master of small cabinets and an inspiration to an entire generation of woodworkers.

My process:
I usually start with a drawing, “doodle” might be a better word, and then I will spend weeks, sometimes months, looking at pieces of wood until suddenly the design and the materials seem to meld and create a life of their own.
I am not entirely sure I understand how this happens; I think it requires a lot of time looking at wood and a certain amount of intuition. Perhaps it is similar to the way a musician writes a song or a chef creates a meal. You start with a very loose idea and then let the ingredients lead the way. I don’t think there is any one way that things unfold, but the goal is to be inspired by the materials so that they either drive the design or bring it to life.

Of course, within all of that there is the need to be able to technically do the work, to be able to cut the dovetails or manipulate the material in a way that brings the vision to life. Much of this is a factor of time, patience, and practice; however, this is also where my Aikido comes into the picture. Martial arts teach you to how to breath, how to move, how to stand, how to remain calm and focused and these are qualities that I draw heavily on. A good day in the shop is almost a meditative dance where I can see and hear and feel things in a way I can’t if I am feeling rushed. A lifetime of Aikido practice has taught me how to enter that state and just as importantly it has taught me to recognise when I am out of sync with the work and need to take a break.

This process is difficult to articulate because a lot of it is about intuition, but I think if I was going to boil it down to three key points they would be to respect and understand the material, to have a sense of your own design style, and to breath so you can slow down and listen to the wood.

James Constable.
Born 1966.
Lived in the US, Bermuda, England, and for the past 17 years, Lunenburg, NS.

I started working as a carpenter in my teens, had my first furniture apprenticeship in Colorado in the late 80’s with a teacher who showed me how to stand and breath and stay calm. My second apprenticeship was in Bermuda with a teacher who helped me understand hand tools and design. Since then, I have worked for myself building everything from houses, to tiny houses, to boat interiors, but I always circle back to my first love of furniture and cabinetry. Most of my work is commissioned, but I do have a small studio space in my shop dedicated to one-off pieces that I make when I have the time and inspiration.

Outside of woodwork I practice and teach the Japanese martial art of Aikido and live in an off-grid house that Jennifer and I built 15 years ago.

Exhibition: November 9th – December 3rd, 2023
Our gallery at 151 Montague Street will be open to visitors, Monday to Friday, 10:00am – 4:00pm, by chance or appointment.

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 9th at 7:00pm