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Miles Peterson

Wood / Youngsville, LA / Master Craftsman

Artist Statement

furniture made from reclaimed cypress wood

Biography

I have enjoyed working with wood for more than thirty years and I have always been fascinated by old things. In the mid 1990’s, I was asked to build a valence for a large picture window. The request was to build the piece out of used cypress. I was intrigued and puzzled at the nature of this request for two reasons. First, why would anyone want to put used lumber in their new house, and secondly, what was the attraction to cypress? As the project progressed I discovered the answers to both of my questions. The dirty, crooked, warped old barn wood that I had been given for this project began to take on a new life. During the assembly process I noticed that the wood could be straightened and flattened without breaking. Cypress had an extremely soft texture that accepted a wax finish without blotches. With these discoveries I was hooked.
In the ensuing years I became an avid collector of old cypress. I would pick up pieces in trash piles on the side of the road or stop and ask people if they would like to have the old shed in their pasture removed and the trash hauled away. Eventually family, friends and acquaintances began to call me with leads on where to harvest more cypress. Today a 1940’s two-car garage from Lafayette, LA, and part of a small Cajun house from Crowley, LA, have been reassembled and serve as my workshop and showroom.
The materials I use are harvested from building structures that are 75 to 150 years old. Generally, that indicates that the trees were “old growth” timber, possessing all the qualities that long, slow growth gives to wood. Being recycled, the wood is full of “character”…Full of nail holes, old hammer marks, birdshot and many other signs of its long journey. In building my furniture I have attempted to accentuate the “characteristics” while at the same time, producing solid, well-designed, well-constructed pieces. Allowing my projects to appear old is what I strived for by creating objects that already have the look and feel of a fine antique. The only thing new about my created piece is the craftsmanship. I wanted every piece I created to become a true antique.
During the past ten years I have designed and built a wide variety of furniture. Originally I believed that my work had to have functionality. I had viewed that as an essential element of my art. I did not yet possess the vision necessary to go beyond furniture. Realizing what a limited resource my building materials were, I saved all the scraps. I felt like a hoarder, but I could not throw scraps away. After experimenting with different project leftovers one summer evening, I began to see new possibilities. By combining different shaped leftovers, new ideas began to emerge. Rocking chair leftover pieces became, perhaps, a plant stand or a simple fish shaped frame. An evolution progressed quickly from these simple items to rather complex framed wooden flowers. As this transition continued, I found myself looking forward to completing a project only to create something from the remains. I viewed this concept in a very different light, and with this new vision I rediscovered the basic elements of my art.