My wife and I took a little trip up the California coast recently, and ended up staying in Little River, a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it minor berg just south of Mendocino. Our intention was to get away from the day-to-day stuff, and just relax, do some light hiking, sightseeing, and take in a few golden sunsets.
But what I didn’t count on was that our trip would spark some serious deja vu. You see, back in the 1980s, the handmade woodwork and finely crafted furniture scene in Mendocino was in full blossom. There were a number of very nice galleries that not only carried great regionally made furniture, but sold a fair amount of it as well. Back in those days, I showed most of my custom furniture at the “Artisans Guild” gallery, which was located in a lovely, cottage-like building right on Mendo’s main drag, facing the ocean (it was a few doors down from Dick’s Place, a rather interesting bar…but that’s another story). The place was run by a most colorful pair of proprietors: Clyde Jones and his partner, a sinuous gal named Tigerlily. Together, they collected works from some of California’s finest woodworkers, and their shows and gallery displays were always a special occasion. After being part of several woodworking shows there, the gallery sponsored my first one-man show of furniture back around 1984. To my great delight, they actually sold most of the dozen or so pieces I had in that show, including a large desk made of Honduran mahogany and Gabon ebony.That piece was purchased by a couple who were on vacation from North Carolina. They didn’t seem particularly affluent, so I was so impressed that they thought enough of that desk to deal with the added expense of having it crated up and shipped all the way back home. It’s nice to remember that even average, middle class folks had disposable income back then.
Some years ago, the Artisan’s Guild moved to a vintage structure next door, and reopened as the Highlight Gallery. As I wandered around the gallery last month, it was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I saw contemporary pieces made by some of my old woodworking colleagues, including a lovely dining set built by long-time Mendocino resident Tom McFadden. There was also a lovely small table by Michael Burns, recently retired as College of the Redwoods fine woodworking program director. There was also lots of woodwork there by younger makers, many of them graduates of the College of the Redwoods program in nearby Fort Bragg. It was great to see that the furniture scene is still relatively alive and well, at least up in this sleepy little northern California coastal town.