The season of fall is well upon us and as always, it reflects the changes that occur in nature and in all things. However, something that hasn’t changed at Sievers during the fall for many years has been a class in making a bent willow chair with Ken and Michelle Workowski. Fall happens to be the best time to bend the heavy-duty Sandbar willow used for the arms and back of the chair due to its ability to flex in the extreme without splitting when nailed .
Ken Workowski first came to Sievers as an assistant to Rich Prange for the Bent Willow Chair class held in October of 2004. With Rich’s retirement from teaching the class the following year, Ken, with his wife Michelle, began teaching this always-popular class in 2005. They have offered a total of 28 classes here, most being the Bent Willow Chair class, but also Broom Making, Bent Willow Loveseat, Poplar Bark Basket and Michelle has taught Handmade Paper Lampshades.
In the late 1970’s, Ken came across an article on building willow furniture in a Mother Earth News magazine. It gave step-by-step directions on how to build a willow chair. Ken said, “I thought that this was something I would like to try.” It was a perfect opportunity to combine his carpentry skills and love of nature and was the beginning of their home business using natural materials, The Nature of Things. The business evolved to include many types of furnishings and other creative natural wood products (which you can see in their gallery). Most of what they make has been self-taught and has served them well in living an independent and self-sufficient lifestyle. As Ken and Michelle say, “Our lifestyle and business has drawn us close to the land and nature. We came here to create and the land and nature have created us!”
A lot of preparation for the class involves searching for just the right willow. In addition, pre-cutting the frame pieces, supplying the hardware needed and extra tools allows students to get started right away.
Most of the chair frames are finished after the first few hours with the willow bending and final touches done the next day. It has often been the case that chairs are done on Saturday night, after the class has its traditional pizza supper in the studio.
From a student, “Not only are Ken and Michelle very knowledgeable of their craft, their style of teaching encouraged us to work together and help one another in this journey of making a unique, functional and creative piece of art.”
With this 28th workshop, Ken and Michelle have decided to retire from teaching the Bent Willow Chair class. We cannot thank them enough for all they have brought to Sievers and their students for the past 19 years. The instruction and encouragement, the gathering, preparing and planning, the expertise and sharing, and above all, the desire and ability to bring people together in an interactive human experience, willow chairs aside. Michelle once wrote, “The conversations are endless, the sharing of their lives, heartwarming.”
As it is with the nature of things, change occurs. Our lives are richer for knowing Ken and Michelle and we wish them the best in their imaginative, creative life built on what nature offers.