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Women of Woodworking – Kelly Meagher, Northwest Arkansas

4 Jun

unnamed-1Kelly Meagher is wood burner and stay at home mom living in Northwest Arkansas. She specializes in botanical wall hangings, and has a unique and interesting story behind her path to woodworking.

Meagher grew up in Mexico with parents working in missions working to help support those trying to leave the drug trade. Her father opened a carpentry shop to provide opportunities to those men seeking a better life.

“Everything in our home, from the cabinets, to the beds, to the dressers were built by my dad. I remember being fascinated with watching him turn raw slabs of wood into beautiful pieces of furniture. To be able to envision an end piece out of nothing, and then be able to execute it was amazing to me – and beautiful,” says Meagher.

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When Meagher became a senior in high school, her and her father embarked on their first joint project together, a hope chest. Meagher shares “I loved every moment of it. I don’t think at the time I ever imagined myself being a wood worker, but I definitely can look back at the moments I spent with him in his woodshop, and know that that was clearly where I fell in love with using wood as a medium.”

Later on, Meagher stumbled onto the wood burning technique she now focuses on. Eight months pregnant with her son, she wasn’t happy with any of the decorations she found while working to decorate her new home. She decided to play around with her husband’s wood burner, and immediately fell in love with her creations. A few months later, Meagher decided to open up her now thriving Etsy shop, Of Thistle and Thyme.

As far as considering whether or not her gender has affected her experience in woodworking, Meagher does not think it has since she is stay at home mom and hasn’t ventured to much into the woodworking community. As far as her clients go, Meagher explains “I’ve noticed that about 90 percent of my customers are women – and I intentionally have tried to reach women as my audience on social media – mainly because my shop is home décor and specifically botanical and floral in detail – so more feminine in nature.” But while her clients at mostly women, Meagher shares that males are more likely to reach out to ask questions about her tools or process, even though they may not be the ones actually buying her product.

Meagher continues to explore her botanical work and admits that there is an inherently feminine direction of her designs. “My first wood burned pieces were ones I made for my own home. And after making them, I fell in love with them and thought they would sell well. So from the beginning I saw my product as home décor, which generally is a more feminine interest – at least at the level of where I’m at in my shop.”

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Meagher’s favorite pieces are always the newest one she makes, but she’s been particularly fond of the food pieces she’s made, especially her artichoke design. Meagher gets her designs from the illustrations of early botanists and traces them onto the wood. Meagher shares more about her process, sharing that “When it comes to design, a lot of thought goes into which prints I choose, and how I edit them when I’m tracing. My goal is always to give my wall hangings a simplistic feel that still feels full or sufficient. And then, really, choosing the right piece of wood to work with is critical. Some grains of wood can really mess with the print and distract from it, and some grains make it impossible to even wood burn a clean image. So my work is very much pairing the right image onto the right piece of wood.“

Meagher has some exciting new plans coming up for brides-to-be and also more floral arrangements. “In the very near future I’ll be offering customized bridal bouquets where I’ll be taking custom orders to wood burn images of individual bouquets for brides. And later this year, I’ll be launching poster size wood burnings of collages of whole flower species. I’m still working out the details on this which is why it’ll come out later this year, but I would say it’s the one things I’m most pumped about.”

For the future of Women in Woodworking Meagher has an optimistic outlook. “I have high hopes for women in woodworking. I think the lines aren’t drawn as tightly as they used to be, and I believe in the near future we’ll see more and more women taking it up as a trade. Women are creative and innovative, and more and more the gender role of trades is changing. It won’t take long for women to see that wood is an awesome medium to work with.”

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Specifically for those looking to start their business and are considering Etsy as their initial platform, Meagher was kind enough to share details of her experiences to those interested. “I originally started my shop with both its own website as well as a store on Etsy. But after a few months I saw a clear advantage to having an Etsy shop with an already established audience versus trying to generate traffic to my own website. The thing about having a trade of any kind, is that not only are you working at your trade, but if you’re boot strapping it like I have, you’re suddenly a photographer, marketer, business developer, and customer service person. It’s a lot to take on, especially if what you really love to do is just create. I’ve found Etsy to be an awesome answer to a big portion of that pressure. They already have an established audience who are looking for handmade products, and I’ve simply have to tap into it. It’s saved me a lot of leg work.

I will say I’ve had a hard time getting traffic to my shop, simply because people aren’t really looking for wood burnings. It’s an old fashioned trade, and while it’s one I’m trying to bring back into modern decor, it’s still not something people are looking for. Very rarely has anyone found my shop by searching for wood burnings. It just hasn’t happened. So while Etsy still provides views from casual browsers, I’ve found that the majority of my actual customers have come from my Instagram account. My social media accounts paired with the familiar Etsy backdrop has been a great pairing for my shop.”

Etsy has provided so many artists and new business owners with the opportunity to explore their passions and turn them into a real job, and a real business. It’s been a pleasure to see someone able to use the platform to develop and grow their craft while simultaneously being able to reach thousands, if not millions of people to help build that foundation.

You can check out Meagher’s Etsy store Of Thistle and Thyme, and be sure to connect with her on Instagram at @ofthistleandthyme and also on Facebook at facebook.com/ofthistleandthyme.

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Dwelling’s Local Makers Series (Ketchup 2014 Part II)

27 Jan

As Santa finished his last delivery, Joseph and I went right back to work to prepare for a very exciting opportunity. The lovely Leigh and Tim McAlpin of Charleston, SC’s leading eco-friendly design and furniture store Dwelling chose Joseph Thompson Woodworks and Black Swamp to open their new LOCAL Maker’s Series, featuring the work of talented local furniture makers.

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Invitation made by Dodeline Design

We were so thrilled to kick of 2014 with an exhibition in our hometown. Since we wanted to give our friends and family the best we had to offer, there were many a late night spent in preparation, especially after we had not one, but TWO boards for table tops blow up in the planer during construction.

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We did manage to document a bit of the construction process despite our hectic schedule: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd4RgZDnDcc

Once the dust had settled, the show opened beautifully and we were happy to celebrate with our friends and family.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

New Black Swamp cuff bracelets and necklace styles were launched to a very positive reception. This piece features local South Carolina Black Walnut wood.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Charleston’s new High Wire Distillery provided their delicious locally crafted spirits, making the event a fully local event.

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

A few more of my favorite snaps from the opening…..

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Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

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Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, Courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Photo by Sea Star Arts Photography, courtesy of Dwelling

Thanks to the talented Jeni Becker of Sea Star Arts Photography for the wonderful photos, see more snaps from the party here. Thanks also to High Wire Distilling, Dodeline Design, and of course, Leigh and Tim McAlpin of Dwelling for hosting us.

In addition to the opening, we also held a “Meet the Maker” session at Charleston’s first Second Sunday on King for the new year. It was a beautiful day and I loved meeting new people and seeing some old friends, too.

Courtesy of @JWTWoodworks

Courtesy of @JWTWoodworks

The show will be on view at Dwelling until Sunday, February 9th, which will close with another “Meet the Makers” session from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Dwelling is located at 165 King St, Charleston, SC.

Check out some wonderful press the show has received from the Charleston City Paper, The Scout Guide, Post & Courier, and Design Feast’s Design Feaster.

Thank you to all of our friends, family, fans, collaborators, and everyone who had even the smallest part in making this show possible. We have been overwhelmed with the support from our hometown, we are so grateful and blessed to have such love in our lives.

From Start to Finish

28 Oct

I was digging through last year’s files a few nights ago and found something really special with an interesting story behind it.

About a year ago at 2012’s Fall High Point Market Joseph and I sat down on a slow afternoon in our space to get some administrative work done.  We were exhausted in the midst of our first showing at High Point and I remember saying “Let’s try to make something positive come out of these few hours.”

After a few minutes of chatting about different work topics we ended up talking about new design inspirations we had in mind. We both had been exploring different seating options so we began to elaborate on that mutual thread.

I think one thing that really helps Joseph and I understand each other as individual designers is that we both find inspiration for designs often from the most unexpected places. Joseph once found a leg shape for a table by looking at a shade drawn on an airplane window just so. While this is exciting and always intriguing, often times our initial sketches end up looking something like this:

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While these hieroglyphs may look impossible to decipher, once I found the paper I showed it to Joseph and we immediately began to trace the progression of the design from where we went from a single back rail to three, where I drew my vision for the initial overall shape of the piece and so on. It was quite neat for us to look at these scratched down shapes and know it was a map in a language that only we could understand.

We were really brought full circle when we put them next to the finished product, our latest dining chair design at Joseph Thompson Woodworks.

2013-09-12 08.02.26Now it all makes sense, doesn’t it?!

Finding that scribbly piece of paper really reminded me of why Joseph and I do what we do and just how powerful the combination of inspiration and positive energy can be.  I hadn’t thought of that tired afternoon till I found that piece of paper and suddenly I became very pleased that this design progressed so naturally and beautifully despite it’s conception occurring in not the most exciting or pleasant of circumstances.

I thought this little story would give an interesting glimpse into our process as designers and makers. Sure, some incredible ideas come from great brainstorming sessions with a crisp sketchpad and freshly sharpened pencils with precise measurements made with a straight edge, but sometimes all you have is a beverage napkin, your third cup of coffee for the day and bags under your eyes. But when that inspiration hits you in the most inopportune of times you better grab a pen and whatever paper you’ve got and get to work.

National and Family Treasures

3 Sep

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with American History, even as a child. My ideal vacation was a trip to Gettysburg instead of a theme park, even at the age of 9.

I also grew up with a family who loved to thrift and go “antiquing.” I still love seeing my Uncle’s antique war memorabilia collection or the vintage goodies my sister finds at her job at an antique store.

Family heirlooms are definitely the most special antiques of all. Not only do they combine years of history and age with sentimental family memories, sometimes, every once in a while, they can also be incredible historical artifacts.

My husband Joseph is basically a descendant of early American “royalty.” He is a descendant of some very notable names that made history throughout the Colonial and Civil War eras. Since he is also an incredibly talented furniture maker, it was only fitting that he got to take on a very special task over Labor Day weekend.

One of Joseph’s famous ancestors is a Founding Father, Thomas Nelson Jr. He was one of the first Governors of Virginia, as well as a member of the House of Burgesses, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Being from Yorktown, VA, his estate was taken over by Cornwallis to be his headquarters during the infamous Battle of Yorktown. Being an ardent patriot, supposedly Nelson offered money to Continental soldiers to destroy his home during the battle.

So why the history lesson? And where do family heirlooms fit into this? Well, Thomas Nelson Jr.’s incredible four-poster mahogany bed has survived and stayed in Joseph’s family for generations.

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Made using traditional woodworking methods that Joseph and I still use in all of our designs today, the bed is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship that has been loved and cared for over the ages by the family. At the request of the family member who now cares for it, Joseph had the honor to take the bed apart and examine it while renovations were being made to the room it is now kept in.

The rails are connected using double mortise and tenon joints.

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Double Tenons on the ends of the rails.

Double Mortise on the posts.

Double Mortise on the posts.

The original maker's mark of "4" to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The original maker’s mark of “4” to identify matching posts and rails to help in putting the bed back together when taken apart.

The bolts that are used to hold the rails to the posts are original, save for the head of one that was welded onto the original after it was broken. The iron mattress hangers and fasteners are all original. The visible part of the bed has been refinished, the back of the headboard is black with age and expired varnish.

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The carving on the bed’s posts and headboard are absolutely magnificent. The wood is undoubtedly virgin growth mahogany which is pretty much obsolete these days.

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The bed is now used as a four-poster style bed, however it is originally a teester-style bed, the brass adornments are kept in storage however the original fabric is long gone, lost to the ages.

Another notable characteristic about the bed is it’s size. Although it is a queen sized bed, it is much smaller than today’s queen beds, as people were much smaller in stature 250 years ago. Another testament to traditional woodworking techniques is that despite it’s age and several moves across the country to different family members over the years, it is in excellent condition with no structural damage. Beds made even 50 years ago with modern joinery and fasteners may fall apart before this bed will. It is also unknown whether or not this bed was brought over from England or made in the states.

Perhaps my favorite part of the bed, and a testament to the original maker’s eye for detail are these wonderful carved rosettes that cover the bolts on the posts.

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While I was sad to not have been there personally for the deconstruction, I hope to be there when Joseph returns to put it the bed back together. I know it was a very special moment for him to examine such an important piece of American history, his family’s history, and also an incredible source of inspiration for our own furniture work today.

All photos provided by Joseph Thompson.

Side note: I posted a photo of the bed over the weekend to my Instagram page, and low and behold one of my followers and Charleston neighbors is also a descendant of Nelson. It’s a small world after all, folks!

Events and New Work – September 2013

29 Aug

As a busy summer draws to a close and Labor day nears, I wanted to take a minute to share some upcoming events and also new work from the past month or so.

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As many of you already know I recently launched Black Swamp in June. Black Swamp is a naturally inspired accessories line that features my jewelry creations using recycled wood shavings from our furniture designs for Joseph Thompson Woodworks, as well as copper, sterling silver, brass and other fine materials. As of now my designs are available through my online store, blackswamp.co.

Photo by Jen Ray for Black Swamp.

Photo by Jen Ray for Black Swamp.

Black Swamp received some great press over the summer with an inclusion in Charleston Magazine’s print issue for August 2013 as well as a divine feature by Elizabeth Bowers for CHARLIE Magazine in July.

I also had the opportunity to shoot this amazing portrait for Black Swamp with Joseph Nienstedt of JWNPhoto a few weeks ago!

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I told you it was a busy summer! And I’m just getting started.

Next weekend, I am thrilled for Black Swamp and Joseph Thompson Woodworks to team up with Gris Galerie for the OPEN Arts Expo at the College of Charleston Cistern Sunday September 8th from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

This will be Black Swamp’s first event ever! I am so pleased for my designs to be making their official debut in Charleston. In addition to Black Swamp baubles, we’ll be bringing a few furniture, decor and wall hanging pieces for Joseph Thompson Woodworks. Click over to our Current Work page on our website or our Etsy shop to get a sneak peek at a few items that might make an appearance.

Again, I couldn’t be happier to hang out with our hometown crowd and show some new designs for the very first time! The support we’ve received from our home base has been incredible, and we can’t wait to celebrate in gratitude with you!

In other news, for those that do not know I am also the Membership Coordinator for a local SC Community Supported Agriculture program, Pinckney’s Produce. We’re gearing up to start our fall harvest season Tuesday, September 17th. If you’re in the Lowcountry or Midlands of SC and are interested in having over 45 different varieties of fresh, local SC grown produce delivered to a convenient location once a week for three months, then definitely give Pinckney’s a look! We have a great food community growing across the state, come be a part of something fun and tasty with me.

Phew! Okay. Just looking at what lies ahead this month has got me tired! I am looking forward to an exciting and busy month ahead. Thanks for all of the support, and I hope to see a few of you out and about over the next few weeks!

Classically Capitalizing on 2013’s Color of the Year

11 Feb

When Pantone announced emerald as the 2013 Color of the Year there was the expected subsequent outpouring of love and admiration for the hue all over the design world. As excited as I was to hear the news, I must admit I felt a little disheartened at the prospect of my favorite color being overdone, overblown and even – *gasp* – trendy.

Since I am a early May baby (and my mother is too) emerald has always been a staple in my wardrobe. I remember receiving my first “real” piece of emerald jewelry in the first grade – a gold ring with a teeny tiny emerald on it from my godmother and beloved Aunt. I’ve been in love with my birthstone ever since, and now that emerald is getting some well deserved attention I wanted to share some thoughts on how to effortlessly incorporate the classic hue into your surroundings.

A little background: The mineral Emerald has an extensive history and has been associated with prominent figures since ancient times, so technically it’s been “So hot right now” since 4000 BC. Cleopatra adored emeralds and they have long been thought to hold mystical powers by a myriad of societies and cultures. Emeralds are thought to represent fidelity and balance, and help promote creativity. They have also been thought to prevent some health problems and aid in business matters. Emeralds themselves can actually vary in shade and depth of color – darker, richer hues are more desirable, particularly in jewelry.

For my fellow adventurists who like to get their hands dirty there are actually some emerald mines you can visit and hunt for emeralds in located in western North Carolina. That sounds like a fun weekend adventure – vacation with a potential payday included anyone?

Now focusing on the color itself, there a lot of ways you can subtly incorporate the hue into your life without a lot of effort or cost.

Plants of course are an obviously easy, cost effective, and simple way to pay homage to the color of the year. Even if you don’t have a green thumb a simple low-maintenance succulent will do the trick.

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Elfin Thyme is also a great choice to decorate your outdoor spaces.

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My first indication that emerald green was making a surge (at least in the home furnishings world) were all of the lacquered emerald finishes I saw at High Point Market in October. Lilly Pulitzer showcased an elegant emerald desk at market, while Del Ray and Associates featured a lovely antique dresser and side table at the Antique and Design Center (if you scroll down those photos, you’ll even catch a peek of me in an emerald green frock!)

Not wanting to make a large decor investment in a trend but still want a classic piece? Opt for a small home accent, such as this vintage emerald green pitcher and bowl set from Anchor Glass in Forest Green.

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For your wardrobe, snag a great pair of emerald bottoms (JCrew shown below) and balance them with a neutral top.

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You can also make Dorothy wish she’d never left the Emerald City with a gorgeous pair of emerald pumps such as these Pour La Victoire beauties.

And of course you can rarely go wrong with a set of emerald baubles. Most recently Beyonce showcased a perfect incorporation of emerald jewelry in an outfit with those spectacular gems she wore at Obama’s inauguration – and there is definitely no faking that elegance regardless of how you feel about lip-syncing.

Obviously emerald is an excellent statement hue guaranteed to catch the eye, thus it’s often best to use it in moderation (As are most things in life, right?) Pair it with other bright colors for a vivacious effect, or even with neutrals as to allow the emerald to be the center of attention – which does make sense after all as Cleopatra wasn’t known for being a wallflower, was she?

(All photos Copyright of Katie Thompson 2012 unless otherwise noted.)