ESCONDIDO — For Brian Murphy, craft wood-making conjures a simpler time, one in which automation did not reign supreme over the entire industry. But automation has also driven down the cost of furniture for everyday people.
“It’s art,” Murphy said. “So, it’s discretionary income money that buys custom furniture. Some people buy it just because it’s art and some people want it to be very functional. The trade itself is like the stock market. Sometimes it goes up, and it goes down. It goes up, it goes down. The more money people have, the more they will buy art.”
As a way of bringing the past to the present, Murphy works as sponsor with his wife Nancy Murphy for “Wood: A Furniture Show,” which is currently making its 11th annual appearance at the Escondido Arts Partnership’s Municipal Gallery. The show features the work of 39 craft wood-makers and will be on display through Feb. 21. The owner of Murphy’s Fine Woodworking in Escondido, Murphy also has one of his own works on exhibition, a chair.
“In 1981, we bought a chain of stores called The Cutting Edge here in California,” Murphy said of his interest in the wood-based art form. “It was a woodworking (retail store) and at that time, we established a school to teach woodworking and some of the amazing young artists at that time now are some of the most famous woodworkers in America today. It kind of just stuck and became a passion.”
Murphy said that for this year’s show, 10 students from Palomar College’s Cabinet and Furniture Technology program have 12 different works on display, a program he praised as “the best west of the Mississippi.” One of those pieces, Werner Pyka’s “Five Game Federal Demilune,” won “best of show.”
“They have sourced some of the best woodworkers in San Diego,” said Murphy. “Now San Diego has a reputation for some of the most famous woodwork. The largest guild woodworking club is the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association.”
San Diego-based artist David Marr, who had a dresser and two-tiered table on display, expressed excitement about the gallery.
“It’s always nice to be able to show your art,” Marr said. “Hopefully, people that see your work will gain some appreciation for something that is made by hand from the soul. It’s something really special to have a gallery for us artists to show our work.”
Paul Schürch, a Santa Barbara-based wood-maker, also has two pieces on display. Both are wall pieces, one a palm frond motif and the other a woven mat theme.
“It gives me great pleasure to exhibit my work in such venues such as the Municipal Arts Gallery in Escondido,” said Schürch. “My medium is wood, and the technique is marquetry. I delight in creating unusual pictures and patterns using the natural color of wood. I strive to convey strong visual content and depth of field and inlaying the little curiosities in the image becomes the fun aspect of showing it was made by human hands.”
“I love creating pieces that make people say, ‘Wow!’ or ‘How did he do that?” said Zonce. “It’s been one of my lifelong passions that I turned into a business. I take great pride in my work because you’re working with a once-living thing.”
Murphy says that at the end of the day, the annual show is a way to raise awareness of and keep the niche artform alive.
“The health of the custom furniture business is never fantastic,” he said. “It’s a challenging way to make a living. And for young people coming out, they need to mentor with somebody. And they need to have guidance and direction they need to understand it’s a business first, because really you can be the greatest artist in the world, but unless you manage your money, you’re going to starve to death.”
The Escondido Arts Partnership’s Municipal Gallery is open from Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 262 E. Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido.