“LOVE,” “FAITH,” “STRENGTH” – these were the carved inscriptions hidden in the underbelly of a massive, wooden family dining table in France – the words, a chilling memory of its World War II history.
During the war, German soldiers occupied the French family’s home where the table resided.
Seizing the home for two weeks, the Nazis burned every heirloom before the family’s eyes to instill fear and secure their surrender. They charred every piece aside from the dining table – the size and weight of it too great to move.
During the occupation, the family inscribed those inspirational words in the wood grain, as a reminder of their ability to overcome.
Today, the family still gathers around the table – a pillar of family heroism – for dinners and family talks.
Sitting round this same table is where Vancouver-based, woodworking artisan Meredith Nicole found the “missing element” of her career while abroad studying antique restoration.
“It left such a huge impression on me,” Meredith said. “I realized, up until that point, my furniture was more for fun, or for exploration. That was when it switched inside of me. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a part of this disposable culture. I want to create things that are going to be meaningful and last hundreds of years.’”
And, now, she does.
In September, Meredith, an artisan of modern heirlooms, launched an online, curated space called ODEN GALLERY (www.OdenGallery.com) showcasing handcrafted contemporary furniture and the North American artisans who craft it.
Meredith likens the online furniture gallery to a specialty-clothing boutique, “where you instantly recognize the quality is exceptional and consistent amongst all the pieces, there is a common theme, and, as the client, you simply enjoy and select the items that make your heart sing!”
“There’s so much to learn and it’s so humbling. There is no ‘master’ woodworker … you’re always a student of the material.”
– Meredith Nicole
WAIT, AREN’T HEIRLOOMS OLD, HEAVY AND DUSTY?
Not Meredith’s or ODEN GALLERY artisans’.
A modern heirloom is a contemporary furniture piece designed in any number of styles built by traditional craftsmanship with the intention of lasting generations.
Meredith and fellow ODEN GALLERY woodworking artisans spend days sustaining the traditional artisanal skills of shaping wood and hand-cutting joinery with hand tools.
“Every piece, even if the actual design is exactly the same, will always look a little different because the wood itself carries so much character,” Meredith said.
Unlike going to the nearest big box store and purchasing the latest cookie-cutter, ready-to-assemble, particle board furniture, the ODEN GALLERY commissioning experience offers something uniquely different.
“I don’t have a fear of things being lost. As long as there’s one person on the planet that’s passionate about it, it will prevail.”
– Meredith Nicole
When a client commissions work from ODEN GALLERY, the artisan – matched to the client and their needs – encourages client participation throughout the design process.
For ODEN GALLERY, furniture’s role is not simply function, but tradition and originality. Clients have the freedom to present their own designs, particular structural elements that remind them of a touching family tale, or details like carved words that remind them of their core family values.
Prices range from $300 to $6,000 per piece. ODEN GALLERY ships to anywhere in North America and will work within the client’s time frame.
WHEN FASHION & WOODWORKING COLLIDE
To look at Meredith’s piece called Effie’s Cabinet, the naked eye would see an elegant, refined wooden cabinet with a rough-edged spear projecting though the bottom, yet, beyond its surface beauty, the wood grain itself can recount a deeper story.
Effie Cunningham had been a milliner in the 1940s. In her 90s, she was tall, elegant and talked like a trucker. She wore quirky angora knitted sweaters in exotic colors and made her own blackberry wine. Effie was a dear friend of Meredith’s and a “modern-day Renaissance woman,” she said.
Effie is one of many a character to have inspired Meredith to design. The result? Effie’s Cabinet.
The sleek and subtly curved cabinet mimics Effie’s character – graceful and sophisticated, while the au natural African Blackwood spear represents Effie’s uneven, organic wool sweaters and the brusqueness of her candid language.
“One woman, three muses. And someday a hundred unique stories told on wood grain.”
– Meredith Nicole
Meredith’s love of fashion – particularly vintage – was the true inspiration behind constructing modern heirlooms. While her family did not behold any of their own furniture heirlooms, a family friend did bestow Meredith with a collection of antique hats.
“I learned the beauty that comes with pieces which are made to last from my vintage hats and dresses – craftsmanship at its finest!” Meredith said.
The similarity between fashion and woodworking, she said, is how the creative process hinges on a character.
Meredith professed she is known for her rather odd woodworking outfits. Whether choosing a blindingly sequined “I <3 Barbie” T-shirt to go to the wood shop in when she is feeling bubbly, or dressing like a vintage pin-up girl on a Hawaiian camping trip, she dreams in characters.
When Meredith designs costumes, the fabric inspires her; when she designs furniture, the wood does.
Akin to a fashion designer, she creates storyboards for each of her creations. Each board portrays a design, but also the character she visualizes who might call such a piece their own.
“When I’m woodworking I get into this almost old, romantic mood,” Meredith said. “I’ll light candles and have them on my woodworking bench. I’ll be shaping with these old tools. It’s a similar crossover feel for me. I’m a romantic at heart. Basically, I love stories. They’re my favorite things in the world. I often inject stories into my design, as well.”
If not in her wood shop, you will likely find Meredith cruising around on her motorbike – her only mode of transport I might add, dancing to house music with friends, or sating her since of adventure by traveling the world awaiting her next source of inspiration.
To commission your own piece, apply to be featured as an ODEN GALLERY artisan, or to purchase Meredith’s work, as well as other North American artisans’, visit www.OdenGallery.com or call 1.855.OUR.ODEN (687.6336).