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Ian Ingersoll

by Kathryn Boughton

Ian Ingersoll, renowned cabinetmaker from West Cornwall, is multilingual. "I love the classics, but I am tasked to work in the modern world" he said, "so I work in five different languages of modern design."

After 42 years in the woodworking business, his world is still unfolding. "You have to go where the market is," he said. "I have no idea what will be next."

Ingersoll began his odyssey when he built a house and its furnishings for himself after he got out of the Army. "Then some friends twisted my arm to make furniture for their apartment in New York and, by the time I was done with that, I was hooked."

The budding craftsman taught himself as he proceeded, quickly learning that the part he enjoyed most was the shop work. "I wanted to advance the art form and I looked around for an influence," he said. He found it in James Krenov (1920-2009), a master woodworker, who inspired his colleagues to bring simplicity, harmony and above all, a love of wood to their work. Krenov wrote two books, A Cabinetmaker's Notebook and The Impractical Cabinetmaker, in which be shunned ostentatious and overly sculpted pieces, stains, sanded surfaces,and unbalanced or unproportional constructions.

Ingersoll was inspired by Krenov's counsel, and "decided it would be smart for me to find an influence to grow through."

Enter the Shakers. "The Shakers represent our heritage," Ingersoll said. "[Their furniture] is in our houses and our museums. And because it was local, it was here for me to look at, touch and feel."
Also attractive to him were the pure lines of the furniture. "It is a Shaker religious directive not to include ornamentation," Ingersoll related. "They had simplified the lines of existing furniture, the form had been reinvented and redefined into simpler, less ornate, forms."

As Ingersoll taught himself the techniques needed for creating Shaker styles, he found a ready acceptance of his furniture. "I did a step-stool and put it in a village store," he said. "It sold that weekend. The next weekend, the buyer asked if I would make a chest. I didn't know how to do it, but said, 'Yes.'"

And his business proceeded from there. "The one single piece of useful advice I took from my father, was find something you love to do for a living," he said.

Four decades later, Ingersoll still works in the little village of West Cornwall in three small buildings, where he employs 10 people. "There is no 'up' from West Cornwall," he said. "How could we leave. I've never been without work through four recessions."

But to keep on top of his game, he must constantly improvise. He says he still gets requests for Shaker pieces, but now about 85 percent of his work is done for the hospitality industry.

"The learning goes on," he said. "I not only work in original designs, but also incorporate metal, stone, leather, plastic—whatever comes to hand. I show traditional pieces in Cornwall, but I'm working for the most cutting-edge design shops in New York. Everyone wants to continue learning."

He recently made furniture for the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami FL.

"We have to create as we go along," he said. "That's what allows the woodworking shop to survive when we have to compete with the Chinese, who sub-contract to Vietnamese, who will work for practically nothing. We create new and then have the proprietary rights for a year."

He does most of designing, but also collaborates with customers and designers—and even occasionally with a worker who brings something new to his attention.

He employs different woods when they have been out of the public eye for a while and when the price is right. For instance, American black walnut was hot for a while. "We reintroduced it," he said. "Prior to that, it had out-priced the marketplace, but by the early '90s, you could it buy at a quarter the price of other woods. That's one way we stay ahead of the curve, using something that had not been used. Now you see it everywhere, so we are using ash, which is a local hot wood. There is a glut of it and it is a good material."

He buys the majority of his wood product from dealers along the East Coast. If a wood is priced right, he then figures the right finish. He cites one time when he sold "a year's worth of furniture to Las Vegas" using a technique by which he rubs paint into the grain of the wood. "It's akin to liming," he said, "but more interesting because it accents the grain of the wood. In Las Vegas, we rubbed in gold paint."

"We have been able to reach from Japan to Canada—which is like bringing coals to Newcastle, with all the trees they have," he said.


New Milford Joins A National Barn Quilt Trail Trend

By Lisa Green

Quilts have told stories for hundreds of years. But in the past couple of decades, they've started presenting their stories in a new way — a new medium, in fact — and New Milford, Conn. is one of the first (if not the first) communities in the RI region to join the national barn quilt trail.

These are not your traditional stitch-by-stitch quilts, although the New Milford project took as much time and effort to achieve as any cotton quilt might. Quilt patches are actually quilt-like patterns painted on eight-foot-square plywood, and then mounted on barns. Beyond the artistic purpose, there's a mission to New Milford Barn Quilt Trail: to honor the town's farming history, and encourage people to explore that history, quilt by quilt.

The town-wide effort began in 2013, when New Milford's then-mayor, Patricia Murphy, an avid quilter, applied for a state economic development grant to bring the first barn quilt trail to Connecticut.

When the town received a $7,700 award by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development in 2014, Murphy started to get the ball rolling. The effort would involve getting barn owners interested, helping them develop the quilt designs, finding artists to paint them and, finally, getting them hung. Alas, Murphy was voted out of office and the project stalled. It took two grant extensions, plus private contributions, funds from other town commissions, the office of the current mayor, David Gronbach — and many in-kind volunteer hours — to make the project a reality.

Each of the quilt blocks is meaningful to the barn host family and ties into the local agricultural past. On Smyrski Farm, a design with maple leaves is symbolic of its sugar maples trees tapped for syrup in the past two centuries. The Harris Hill Farm family chose a whimsical cow design to honor the memory of their father, a longtime dairy farmer and international expert on Brown Swiss cows. Hunt Hill Farm Trust (founded by famed bandleader Skitch Henderson and his wife, Ruth), reflects a more modern approach, with squares featuring a heart, fresh produce, an artist's palette and musical notes, expressing the nonprofit's mission of "cultivating the love of the land, food and the arts."

Designs realized, the project moved on to New Milford's Village Center for the Arts, where volunteers painted the huge squares. Finally, the quilts were hung by more volunteers, this time from the town's facilities department (they're the ones with the cherry picker, after all).

Now that the eighth barn quilt has been completed, the organizers of the trail are ready to officially "open" the self-guided tour. On Sunday, the New Milford Barn Quilt Trail committee will honor the people who helped make the trail a reality at a reception at The Silo (located at Hunt Hill Farm Trust). For the rest of us, the trail is easy to access via the website, which offers a background of each of the quilt blocks, a history of the farm itself, plus a map to get you to them.

"This is just the first phase," says Julie Bailey, one of the core organizers, along with Sue Harris Bailey of Harris Hill Farm and Suzanne Von Holt, who happens to be the town sanitarian. "We hope to do another 8 barns in the next 3 years."

"It was a huge volunteer project," she adds. "We couldn't pay people, but we did supply a lot of brownies."

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