With a background making church organs from wood, Paul Schürch says he has a unique connection to the dynamic material.
Paul Schürch’s Wearable Wood
The S.B. Designer Discusses His Craft, Winning a Crafty Award
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
If you’re in the market for a unique dress, you might want to check out area woodworker Paul Schürch, who just recently won (among many other awards) a Crafty Award for creating a remarkable dress made from figured maple veneer. That’s right: Schürch, a highly skilled artisan with a studio here in Santa Barbara, has demonstrated significant innovation in making a piece of wearable wood to add to his impressive portfolio of unique wooden furniture. With a background in building both church organs and boats, Schürch pulls from these experiences to create beautiful and matchless items, truly stretching the medium of wood to full resistance. Amid the commotion regarding his latest achievement, Schürch gave some insight into his practice and answered the question — why wood?
You have a background as a church organ builder. Can you describe that experience and how it has influenced your current practice? It gave me access to major trade groups where one would have to be proficient in a lot of different trades: woodwork, metalwork, plastic, music intonation, historical practice, carving. It gave me a foundation for working with diverse material that has been helpful to me in my entire career.
By Paul Wellman
Paul Schurch in his Santa Barbara workshop
What is it about wood as a medium that speaks to you? It was something that I had always been drawn to from a very early age. The emphasis on piano and church organ building is primarily a woodshop, and I have a connection to the natural material. I understand it. Well, let’s put it this way: I’m beginning to understand it.
Do you have a favorite item to craft? I’m evolving in my practice as a furniture maker. I tend to be going for dynamic pieces that do things. In other words, you spin a table and drawers open, or different mechanical devices to incorporate into the furniture. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, and that’s what interests me. It’s not having static work. My heart really lies in doing different things with wood, thinking outside the box, with wooden wearables or dynamic wooden furniture.
What inspired you to create “wearable wood?” There was a desire on my part to combine diverse materials to make something new and different. I was thinking of wood as being perceived as hard, unyielding, not very flexible — certainly with a warmth to it, but people would not associate that with something that is dynamic. There are dynamic things made out of wood, such as wooden clocks, wooden cars, and bicycles, but it’s treating wood itself as a sort of rigid material. I was teaching Wesley Johnson, an apprentice of mine, eight or nine years ago; he decided he would exit into fashion. After his apprenticeship was done, I decided when I thought of different ways to exhibit wood, he came to mind, saying it could be a high-fashion type thing. I did my research, found some examples in history, but none very eloquent or stylish. I decided I could do something with wood given my present knowledge of how to bend wood, how to make it flexible, how to make it form to the human body, to be able to exhibit it in a completely different way.
By Paul Wellman
Paul Schurch shows of some of his designs in his Santa Barbara workshop