By Peter Metcalfe | Photos by Jenn Lawlor
Locally harvested wood. Crafted with such skill as to make the most utilitarian of objects — spoons, bowls, and tables — into works of art that can add a lived-in feeling to a new home.
If you wish to add such elements of style and warmth to your living spaces, unique wood products will be offered by several vendors at the 35th annual Alaska-Juneau Public Market, Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Zach LaPerriere, wood bowl artisan of Sitka, will sell and display his wares for the first time in Juneau at the Public Market.
LaPerriere grew up in Ketchikan where he graduated from high school. He acquired his interest in wood and construction skills working alongside his father, a builder and shipwright. Zach LaPerriere now lives in Sitka with his wife and their three children in a rustic setting just above the beach near Whale Park.
“Wood from the Tongass has always fascinated me,” he says. “I’ve milled it, built homes with it, and now make bowls with it. But if you go to a local hardware store, you’ll
find lots of wood but little from Alaska.” LaPerriere harvests all his wood from the Tongass, working closely with the Forest Service, which he praises for their cooperative attitude.
For the last three years LaPerriere has concentrated on making wood bowls, taking pride in recovering some of his best cuts from dead trees.
He turns bowls from mountain ash, yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, tight grained hemlock, but confesses to a preference for red alder. LaPerriere has found some massive trunks of dead alder, from which he has salvaged material for making exquisite bowls. Sometimes most of the dead wood is in a state of rot, but the fungus that invades the fiber also contributes to the color. “If you cut a very old alder, it probably won’t be good for much other than my use. When the tree dies, spalting sets in — the first phase of fungal growth.” The good wood that comes out of such a tree can be exceptionally beautiful.
“I see bowl making as functional art. People who buy my bowls connect with Alaska, with the Tongass. Maybe more than half are given as gifts, most sent to loved ones outside. My customers connect with the story of where the wood comes from and are interested to hear about my family’s experience of living in a forest.”
Shoppers can find LaPerriere’s booth in the main lobby immediately adjacent to the atrium in Centennial Hall.
Jenny Sedor and Garrett Cox of Anchorage return with their hand-crafted wood spoons, which many shoppers will likely consider as appropriate companion pieces for LaPerriere’s bowls.
Sedor and Cox were amazed by the demand for their spoons at their first Public Market appearance. “It blew us away,” Sedor says of the enthusiasm at the 2016 Public Market. “It was our best show of the year! The people of Juneau seemed to embrace us.”
Wood spoon crafting has its own ethic: from the tree to the table, without the use of power tools, Sedor explains.
“We like green Alaska birch, it is soft and easy to carve, though the wood is fairly blond,” she says. “One of our processes, which darkens and hardens the wood, and helps keep its integrity, is to boil it in salt water. By adding a little baking soda the wood darkens. We never add dye.”
Also new to the Public Market last year, Reid Harris, born and raised in Juneau, is returning to the 35th annual event where he’ll be situated in the main hall next to long-time vendors, Ruth and Gary McMasters of Wintersong Soaps from Sitka. Harris produces one of-a-kind furnishings such as slab tables crafted from straight-grained, book-matched Sitka spruce (book-matched means two joined slabs from the same cut).
The Public Market, a three-day event, has been held every Thanksgiving Day weekend at Centennial Hall since 1983. In 2005, the Public Market opened an Annex at the nearby Juneau Arts and Culture Center.
LaPerriere, Sedor, and Harris will join about 150 other vendors from all over Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and other regions including Canada, who will be on hand to sell products ranging from the practical, to the wearable, to the decorative, to the givable, and many products suitable for household décor.
The Public Market begins Friday, November 24, and will be open from noon to 7 pm; and on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm.