Grab Bag - Winter 2012
“I had a walnut tree drive up and deliver itself,” explains Michael Palace, when asked where he gets his wood. “It was a guy who had the walnut in his barn for 25 years. He told me, ‘I want you to make use of it.’ So I did. It was wonderful wood, a real gift.”
Palace is an artist, masquerading as a contractor, masquerading as a fine-furniture maker. He collects wood. He collects wood from everywhere. Construction sites, old barns, people’s trash. “It amazes me what people throw away,” he says, shaking his head. “I couldn’t bear to see that happen.” So, he concluded, “Rather than denuding South America and Africa, why not just cull people’s garbage?”
Palace uses old-growth redwood, walnut, some bay and madrone. “Red gum eucalyptus can be incredibly gorgeous, wonderfully figured.”
The door to his workshop on Arnold Drive, across from Brocco’s Old Barn, is practically blockaded by stacks of wood in the process of drying, which can get tricky.
“The cellular structure of wood is like a bunch of straws,” he explains. “The outside dries faster than the inside. Shrinking makes it crack. So you try to control the shrinking, and it doesn’t always work.”
What Palace makes with the wood he collects transcends furniture. It is art, much of it shaped by hand. “Somebody could walk into my shop and see all my furniture, but they couldn’t copy any of my stuff because they can’t use these tools to make this stuff.”
This “stuff” includes exquisite wooden chairs, each leg and arm shaped and curved by hand, tables and cabinets with intricate inlays, stools and lamps and even wooden bowls and boxes.
Palace started out as an artist—“I was very successful, except I wasn’t making any money.”—but fell back on contracting, a victim of starving artist syndrome.
That led him to woodworking and furniture that now sells for a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
He is self-taught, asserts “failure is the best teacher,” and says he is constantly reading about furnituremaking. “I read it, and then I try something, and if it doesn’t work I do it again. I have a house full of books. I read constantly.”
His hours are mostly by appointment, and Michael Palace takes commissions.
Gift of Song
Paying it forward in holiday gift-giving is all the rage these days, as many choose to support a cause instead of buying another thing that will sit on a shelf, collecting dust. For the music lovers in your life, here’s a present that supports not one but two charities while also providing the recipients with the gift of song and a chance to experience Broadway caliber talent in Glen Ellen’s breathtaking Jack London State Historic Park.
The nonprofit Transcendence Theatre Company will return to the serene state park in the summer of 2013 with a new series of Broadway Under the Stars performances. Made up entirely of Broadway and television actors who sought respite in a more natural setting, the talented group offers revue style performances of classic song and dance numbers. Best of all, a portion of ticket sales go toward keeping Jack London State Historic Park open to the public in addition to supporting the theater company—win-win. For the holiday season, Transcendence Theatre Company will offer season ticket packages where guests can select which shows to attend.
Find the gift of song at transcendencetheatre.org.
Holiday gift certificates begin at $45.
Kimonos for a cause
Sonoma floral designer Maki Aizawa could only watch in horror as her hometown of Sendai was decimated in 2011 when a tsunami ravaged the coastal village where she played as a child, where her mother, Tsuyo Onodera, still lived and ran a school teaching the art of kimonos. Today she’s helping to rebuild with the Senninbari Project. It began with the students of the kimono school, who wanted a way out of the makeshift shelters that had become their home. Aizawa and Onodera
encouraged the women to sew again. The mother and daughter used their garment industry knowledge to sell the kimonos to raise funds to bring the town back from the brink. The women now go into other shelters to teach the ancient art of sashiko stitches and kogin embroidery, with many women contributing squares to the kimono.
Senninbari means “Thousand Person Stitches,” and the Japanese believe that a garment sewn by many people becomes an amulet, protecting the wearer, making this the perfect winter comfort gift.
Find them at senninbari.com.
Prices range from $495 to $5,000 and up.
From the 2012 Winter issue of SONOMA