On May 1, 1978 a group of woodworkers from Sonoma
formed the Sonoma County Woodworkers Association, which grew from fourteen members to about thirty members during the first year. The purpose of the association was to share information about woodworking. The initial constitution stated "The Sonoma County Woodworkers Association is a group of people interested in maintaining and further developing the quality of his/her work by a mutual sharing of knowledge and resources in order to learn." With the Mendocino Woodworkers Association as an inspiration and model, the idea for SCWA came from John Keller, who was a student in the Expressive Arts Program at
University. Philip Nereo, another student in the same program, quickly warmed to the idea, as did others whom he invited. Important connections were made in these early days among persons like George Breck of Sebastopol and John DeMarchi of the
Department, who would become figurative later on. Others joined and the ranks grew quickly. Breck and Keller were elected co-chairs to serve for the first six months.
The aim of the founders was to use the Association to organize the woodworkers of the area, to provide them with a structure that would further their individual goals through the sharing of knowledge and resources. Though the initial members were all young professional woodworkers, there was never a restriction on membership, which grew to become a mix of professionals and enthusiasts.
First Tuesday of the month meetings, a monthly newsletter and an annual show – these three features of the association, were established early on. A newsletter was published after the monthly meeting in order to document the proceedings, and to provide information on woodworking activities in the area. In 1982, the newsletter became the Wood Forum, which continues to this day.
The focus of the Association has always been on education and sharing of knowledge. Indeed, a mission statement in the 1991 bylaws states that SCWA "is a not for profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the education, promotion, and execution of the principles of woodworking." Interestingly, the first ‘Special Purpose’ in the Bylaws is to provide ‘a friendly atmosphere’ for woodworkers to meet, a goal that has by and large been met. This notion of sharing knowledge has carried SCWA throughout its existence. While the monthly meetings and the Wood Forum have been the primary instruments used to further the SCWA‘s purpose, the Artistry in Wood Shows provide the opportunity for members to present their skills to public.
Artistry in Wood
While there were no plans to hold a public show at the very first, this changed quickly as membership grew, so that the new group presented a show in its first year at the Hand Goods store in Occidental in October 1978. This was the beginning of the annual Artistry in Wood Show, which missed only one year, 1984.
Exhibited work was generally for sale in the early days, which accorded to the group’s main purpose of furthering the business of its members. While the purpose of the shows is still to exhibit the work of the members, the aim is to provide a display that demonstrates high skill in a variety of areas – furniture, turnings, and art pieces. For members shows are the prime vehicle for sharing work with each other and with the public, plus the opportunity to be recognized for outstanding efforts.
The first show to use the Artistry in Wood title was held in 1982 at the Luther
Center for the Arts – now the
Center. Association membership had grown to about seventy-five members with about half of them professionals. The emphasis by this time had begun to shift from commercially oriented woodwork to pieces that emphasized fine woodworking. These shows ran for one week with members presenting demonstrations most days.
The first Artistry in Wood Show held at the Sonoma
was in 1988 with about forty pieces displayed in a six week exhibit. SCWA was particularly pleased to hold their show at the Sonoma
as it provided the opportunity to reach a larger audience interested in fine craftsmanship. Association members presented demonstrations of woodworking techniques on weekends.
Artistry in Wood is currently the only annual woodworking show that is held in a museum. The format has changed little since the first show. It has always been a juried show with entries reviewed and accepted by the SCWA Guild, a subset of the membership with proven skills, who evaluate entries according to guidelines established in 1991. There has also always been an element of competition in the shows. Entries are judged for awards by an independent (non-member) panel of specially invited judges, and the Awards of Excellence and especially the Best of Show Award are coveted prizes that reflect the best quality of workmanship by artisans from Sonoma County and beyond. Over the decades Artistry in Wood has won a reputation as a show featuring work of high quality in a refined setting.