Interview with Robert Hause, custom furniture maker. Here, he discusses his background and education, the business of furniture making, tools and terminology, and significant periods in the history of furniture.
Hayes: Okay. Today is March 5th and we're talking today with Robert Hause. Did I get that right?
Hause: That's correct.
Hayes: Middle name is?
Hayes: Robert John Hause. And we're at his establishment here in Wilmington and I am Sherman Hayes, University Library at Randall Library. Robert is part of our artist series and if someone came to you and said, "What part of the art field are you?" how would you describe yourself? You are a...?
Hause: Custom furniture maker.
Hayes: Custom furniture maker. And I see on your thing out here something about the art of the craft. Is that what it's called? The craft of the art?
Hause: The Art of the Craft and it's basically using the words from the arts and craft period, which is really the only known American established furniture period. All the other furniture periods like Jacobean, Victorian, they're all English so...
Hayes: Something else.
Hause: Yeah. So arts and crafts.
Hayes: Let's get to that in a minute.
Hayes: But, before we roll into your career, you didn't just full-fledged jump into this. Why don't you go way back and give us a sense of where you started as a child and how you ended up in furniture craftsman.
Hause: I don't know if I can remember that far back. (laughter) But it just seems like I've always made furniture. I was making furniture for sale in high school.
Hayes: Really? Where was high school? Here?
Hause: Yeah. Hoggard.
Hayes: You are a Wilmington...
Hause: Not born Wilmington but I claim Wilmington as my home. I've been here 40 of the 50 years.
Hayes: You came when you were 10?
Hause: Ten. Yeah.
Hayes: That's great. Where did you live here in Wilmington, then?
Hause: Pine Valley.
Hayes: Oh, really?
Hayes: What street?
Hause: Chalmers. Chalmers Drive.
Hayes: No, I lived in Pine Valley, too, that was very...
Hause: Oh, okay.
Hayes: I was hoping you were...
Hause: Yeah, Pine Valley Extension.
Hayes: That's great. You went to Hoggard?
Hayes: And you said you were making furniture. Now, was your dad into it or your mom?
Hause: Well, my dad retired early. He retired when he was 36. He had furniture stores up in New York so not sure what-- and he retired just to play golf the rest of his life.
Hayes: At 36?
Hause: Yeah. At 36.
Hayes: And he owned furniture stores?
Hause: Yeah. Charles House Interiors and, you know, a lot of people say, well, that must have been where your love of furniture came from and I don't really know. You know, as a kid, I do remember the furniture shops but...
Hayes: Yeah. You were a kid. So he didn't do furniture when you moved to Wilmington?
Hause: No, he just played golf.
Hayes: All right.
Hause: And so I just, for some reason, always had a love of construction of furniture and would look at the pieces that were in my room and stuff like that so it was just always a, you know, a love of how it was made.
Hayes: But when you went to Hoggard, what kind of a track did you take? Were you taking art?
Hause: I was just looking at getting through.
Hayes: Getting through. (laughter)
Hause: It was-- no, you know, and that's...
Hayes: You weren't in an art track?
Hause: No, no, and I didn't even take shop, you know? We took shop at Williston and, when I got to high school, I didn't take shop.
Hayes: Did they even have shop then?
Hause: Yeah, they had shop then.
Hause: Yeah. Because I knew some of my friends that were taking it and some of the things they made but, yeah, it's just something I didn't do.
Hayes: So you did college prep track?
Hause: Yeah. And always planned on going to UNCW, the state close to the coast.
Hayes: So what year was that?
Hayes: 1975. So the school was a little bit different than now.
Hause: Yeah. (laughter)
Hause: Yeah, it was not that big because, you know, Trask Coliseum wasn't built yet and all that.
Hayes: Oh, wow.
Hause: Yeah. So it goes way back.
Hayes: Way back.
Hause: Yeah. And wasn't really sure. Actually, was going to be a biology major and started that route initially and then took a geology course and fell in love with geology and finished-- ended up finishing with one little interruption in school for-- with a geology major, B.S. in geology.
Hayes: And who was a key professor just so that you-- I'm kind of doing [inaudible]
Hause: Well, yeah. Bill ________________...
Hayes: He's still there.
Hayes: So he must have just come-- oh, Sue...
Hayes: And Rambo, was Rambo...
Hayes: No, he was geography.
Hause: He used to be. I had the pleasure of taking a course with him.
Hayes: Because there were the two, geography and geology.
Hause: ________________ was marine geology.
Hayes: Oh, wow.
Hause: ________________, while Bill Cleary was there.
Hayes: He's still there. That's great.
Hause: Thayer, Paul Thayer.
Hayes: Oh, Paul Thayer.
Hause: It's kind of hard-- I'm able to pull names...
Hayes: No, those are great. That's a great-- now, in off camera, you had mentioned friends were talking about the surf. Were you a surfer when you were in high school?
Hayes: I mean, does this go way back as far as...
Hause: Yeah, it started when I was about 13 and really got into it senior year of high school with some friends and friends I still travel with to this day and still surfing.
Hayes: Oh, you're still surfing?
Hause: Probably after this interview, might not be heading down to the beach, close up shop.
Hayes: That's great. Thinking of your surf background, I'm surprised you didn't go into surf board making. A lot of surfers are kind of enamored by that whole...
Hause: Yeah. It's not...
Hause: ...you know? I mean, the balsa wood and the redwood and stuff but, no, I never really...
Hayes: It's a fiberglass almost now, isn't it?
Hause: Yeah. Epoxy. Yeah, it's funny, I just-- it's just not the route. It was furniture making that seemed to have always...
Hayes: But you've got a geology degree now? What happens?
Hause: That's what I'm wanting to know. (laughter) Basically, I had an interruption in school and was doing some woodworking with some friends and basically, in the early '80s, the oil industry dried up. I worked a couple of summers and a year down in the oil fields to get experience but...
Hayes: Which would be typical for a geology background.
Hause: Yeah. And they just really weren't hiring and was looking at possibly going in further in the degree but, you know, I finally got to a point where I started having to make a living. So...
Hause: And, well, and then-- I've just always woodworked. I've always been. I've worked with some guys that had a shop. Did custom restaurants and different things like that. I learned a lot from them. Two of them had graduated from NC State in Wood Technology. So it took me to the next level working with them.
Hayes: So there is-- you can take a program in...
Hause: At State, yeah.
Hayes: It's not wood technology. It doesn't say, like, furniture.
Hause: Well, yeah, I think it is but I didn't take the course. These guys were graduates with honors so it was learning from them a lot of different things about wood and really taking to the-- you know, furniture construction and watching, you know, tangential cuts and grain and different things like that, wood percent-- so I was working with them that I was able to tap into their education. So it took me-- it took my woodworking, I felt like, to the next level instead of someone who was a hobbyist to go out and make a living at it.
Hayes: Right. But you were not making craft pieces, art pieces, this was more construction level furniture, you said?
Hause: Yeah. Different things. Different things. And then I, you know, like I said, with what we were doing there at the shop, like I said, a lot of times custom pieces for restaurants and stuff, you know? Whether it was the bar, you know, solid wood bar and stuff.
Hayes: Which can be sometimes a very ornate, unique product, right? Bars in particular, I think, over history, have been...
Hayes: ...a woodworker's dream.
Hause: Yeah. Because the budget's there but, you know, different things that we did over time. Custom condos and trim work and, like I said, this was all a credit them teaching me and then absorbing that, everything, you know, you kind of absorb as you go along and then kind of develop your own style.
Hayes: So how long have you been in this independent custom furniture business? That you felt you had arrived now...
Hause: Have I arrived yet? (laughter) No, I would say that I had this building here ten plus years and it was always working towards that goal of cutting loose from the real job. I worked 20 years at the new plant down in CP&L Brunswick Nuclear Plant so working for CP&L at the time.
Hayes: Oh, I see. So you were doing-- you had another job altogether?
Hayes: That was...
Hause: Yeah. I skipped the starving artist phase. I was working, renovating homes, while still working there and also making my own cabinets and my furniture for the houses I was redoing. So, you know...
Hayes: So you really got into the-- you remodeled whole houses and stuff like that?
Hause: Yeah. I've done about five.
Hayes: So do you-- that calls for, like, a whole set of kind of carpenter skills. Are you also...
Hause: Yeah. Senior year in high school, one of the jobs besides the lifeguard was working with a construction company so I learned carpentry and Pine Valley was a great place because that was the boom years at the time so most of the houses were right there around where I lived so...
Hayes: Interesting. So what did you do at the nuclear plant? Something about geology?
Hause: No, no-- the degree basically got me in the door but worked with a few other geologists from UNCW down there. Worked in operations. Basically, I worked my way into a control operator's position and to de-stress the life, I basically went into scheduling, refuel outages. So half the time, about ten years, was spent in operations. The other was in outage and outage management, outage, you know, scheduling the refuel outages.
Hayes: So you're now, let me reconstruct slightly, you've...
Hause: Confusing life.
Hayes: ...got a good job and you're doing great. I mean...
Hause: Yeah. [inaudible]
Hause: ________________ okay.
Hayes: It was a good paying job and you now say I'm going to follow this kind of custom furniture business.
Hayes: Must have been an interesting choice for you.
Hause: It was the right choice for me and I've always said this to quite a few people. They ask how are you doing? And I say, well, if it was about the money, I would still work for Progress Energy. But it wasn't about the money. It was about doing something I've always wanted to do and if not now, when, is what I've always said. And I've never looked back with regret.
Hayes: So you have an interesting broad background, which seems to me helps with the business aspect but your roots still for making the furniture go way back then to high school.
Hayes: That's the interesting thing is you-- although you said-- tell me a little bit about the kinds of things you have to know about wood that you've learned. I mean, that, I don't think people-- you don't just pick up any old piece of wood, right? I mean, let's walk through a cabinet, all right? I'm going to quickly turn over, this is a cabinet?
Hause: Yes. This is a reproduction I made of the single door bookcase, a rare single door bookcase made by Roycroft which was during the arts and craft period. Lucky enough, I was able to do an exact detail drawing of the original so that I could duplicate it. Again, it's a premiere piece from the arts and craft movement, 1900. I start with raw wood, quarter sawn white oak that I have shipped to me from Ohio. It's one of the specialties. Quarter sawn is they've cut the tree in quarters and it's cut a special way so the rays of the wood are more pronounced. So...
Hause: Well, because they're one of the biggest ones for cutting it. Most people, it's-- probably cost about three to four times more expense because it's labor intensive to cut a tree that way instead of just riffing it, basically just cutting it long ways down on a...
Hayes: I see. For construction timber?
Hause: Yeah. Or just regular just plain riff. It's not as pretty. But, anyways, that's what they did in the arts and craft. They used the ornamentation in the wood itself instead of, like the Victorian era, where they applied something to it. So I start with the raw wood and so it starts with planing it, you know, and then...
Hayes: Planing it?
Hause: Planing it. Running it through a planer where, again, in the old days, it would have been...
Hayes: A hand planer.
Hause: ...a hand planer. I do a certain amount of hand planing but, you know, I have to make, still, a living so I don't think there's many people that would pay for all hand tooled. But-- so you start with planing the lumber and all the molding on it, as such, is all hand made with the routers or...
Hayes: Router is a cutter, a specialty cutter?
Hause: Yeah. I've purchased, just for that cabinet, about $400 worth of bits just so that I could make the movements that would match the original. But, you know, it's a one-time expense so, you know, and it just adds to the tool collection.
Hayes: Could you use it again?
Hause: Yeah. The bits are good, you know, whether you're...
Hayes: If you want that particular...
Hayes: Now, a bit gives you the rounding?
Hause: It could be different. It could be a curve, it could be a round, you know, either concave, convex, you know, or a bead, you know, on the back of the cabinet, everything's tongue and groove, beaded like the original so...
Hayes: What is tongue and groove? That's cutting, putting the wood together?
Hause: Yeah. Basically a male, female end that joins together.
Hause: So, in a tongue in a groove so that, you know, basically it adds strength to the boards so that, when they...
Hayes: Do you glue as well?
Hause: Yeah. I do wood glue, very limited screws. Most everything is a joint, whether a three tenens, mortise and tenens joint. Again, I guess it sounds-- it's not technical, it's just...
Hayes: You've got a lingo. No, it's important to hear it and for people to understand that, within your field, if you go and talk to another furniture maker, this is how you talk. In other words, he'll know exactly...
Hayes: ...what you're talking about.
Hause: Exactly. And the furniture and the arts and craft movement is all about that. It's the simplicity of having the joinery make up the wood instead of something that's gilded or painted over.
Hayes: Painted over.
Hause: Yeah. So you hide flaws and defects but, you know, the arts and craft, it's pretty much right there. It was more massive furniture but the joinery added to it. Bruce Johnson, who puts on the arts and craft conference up in Nashville each year, he wrote a book and it was called-- about the arts and craft movement, it was called "Peg Joint" and that's really what-- and I don't know if you wanted to. Basically that right there is Gustav Stickley piece and that is a peg joint. When you have a through tenens and then you see the peg and this is an original piece that Gustav Stickley made. It's a library table and that is really what the arts and craft movement is...
Hayes: Oh, this is an original piece?
Hause: Yes, exactly, during that period, Gustav Stickley.
Hayes: Now, this case I'm looking at also has glass so you've got to pick that out. You don't necessarily do the glass. You buy the glass from somebody?
Hayes: But you got to install that and put that in?
Hause: Right. And then duplicate-- it duplicates the original and also getting a one and a half inch bevel is not common nowadays. That had to be specially cut through a vendor that I work with and then they, in turn, have to get someone that has the machinery to be able to put that while normally beveled glass is not with a inch and a half bevel but to duplicate it to that level, people have known what the original is. We know that, if we did an inch bevel, that it didn't duplicate it exactly.
Hayes: I guess I'm kind of impressed by your knowledge of history. In other words, as an artisan and crafts person, it seems to me that you've really read and studied these other masters. Is this a common practice within the furniture, custom furniture?
Hause: Yeah. The revitalization of the arts and craft movement has-- everywhere you look, whether at the bungalow. The bungalow house is from that timeframe.
Hayes: Now, what is the timeframe for arts and craft?
Hause: Timeframe is about 1895 to 1920 and, after 1920, it pretty much died. Gustav Stickley, who was the premier maker of the arts and craft furniture, was bankrupt by 1915. His brothers took him over and, by 1920, they ceased all production of Mission furniture or arts and craft.
Hayes: And where was he based out of?
Hause: Most of them are in the New York area, New York, Syracuse...
Hayes: So now, just as any other art piece, people want to collect that person's work, right? In other words, he didn't necessarily hand do each one but he was the designer? He was the inventor of-- made the choices?
Hause: Yeah. And Gustav Stickley would be number one, also, in a collecting world. Prices for his pieces are at a pinnacle right now, are at the highest prices. At the show I just finished where I'm a contemporary shower, the big name antique dealers are there and they had a Gustav Stickley settle with inlay.
Hayes: What's a settle?
Hause: A settle is basically like a loveseat but it's all out of wood. It has the rush seat with leather cushions. The original piece with the inlays was going for over $630,000.
Hause: Yeah. I don't think they had a buyer there but basically museums and such buy pieces like this.
Hayes: So the point of the matter is that the art world, for custom furniture or for what you would call distinctive designers, has elevated it up to an art form? In other words...
Hayes: ...they're not buying what's coming out of Winston Salem, right? Or will someday.
Hause: I don't think so. I think the quality today is just not there unless you do get a custom piece and that's what we're duplicating. The reason why-- our pieces are not cheap but they duplicate the quality and that was-- it's basically timeless. Such like the pieces that are bringing in the high end market, the Gustav Stickley and the signed pieces, you know, and, again, it's the same thing with, you know, it's got to be the original finish, it still has...
Hayes: So signed piece. You mean, there were ones that the artisan actually would...
Hause: There are logos. There are logos.
Hayes: Okay. Logos.
Hause: Everybody knows the year, whether it's a red stamp from the early years and different things like that.
Hayes: So they really track that?
Hause: Yeah. And that's what brings prices. And that makes a market for us where original hex table that I sold up at the Grove Park, an original one, where I only sell for a fraction, an original one would cost you 25,000 so most people can't buy that and yet they can buy, you know, a well made...
Hayes: So your own shop sells an art deco line of other things that you've collected over time or distributed? In other words, there's items here that are also...
Hause: Yeah. Everything-- in the antique business, because I've been-- I've never stepped foot except for my father's shop, foot really in a furniture store. I've never purchased from a furniture store. I've always been an antique collector so it's also been a love. So everything that I have in here compliments what I make. Everything here from the art pottery to the metal work is all from the arts and craft period.
Hayes: Okay. For the people that won't know where we're at, what is the name of you business?
Hause: It's called the Art of the Craft.
Hayes: Art of the Craft. And you have a separate small retail area and then...
Hause: Very small.
Hayes: ...this shop also...
Hause: The shop's in the back and then I have a portion of the building out front which I call the studio for pieces as I accumulate through the year that I produce to take to shows that I'll bring the inventory up front. And also it goes with original-- I try to keep signed pieces of the Stickley, Stickley Brothers or Limpert[ph?] or some of the-- Whitecroft, some of the top names.
Hayes: Now you talked about reproductions, right?
Hayes: Which is a craft unto itself. You know, an honored craft to try to get exactly the same. I mean, you have to work, I guess, from-- if you can find the pieces yourself or photographs or other designs that you can get that help you know exactly...
Hause: There are books now. It used to be, just years ago, that, because the arts and craft movement has been revisited, now and it's so big now that there's people who are producing books with detailed drawings, and most of them are a little bit off, that you can purchase books like that, that give you an idea or a sense of dimensions. I do both ways. I'll sometimes work from a book or I'll work from a picture. Example being just recently, the Grove Park Inn purchased a three panel divider of mine that was originally made by Roycroft and they had in their great hall up there in Nashville and, at some time, they've lost it through time. And so I duplicated it from an archived photo and then brought it up there for sale and they liked it so much they purchased it [inaudible]
Hayes: So you're really doing almost not restoration, restoration would be of the original, what's a reproduction level but it's custom. It's not done in a factory, per se.
Hause: No. It's...
Hayes: Because you can buy...
Hause: China and Vietnam have factories that just duplicate and, you know, just low quality and high volume and that's not what it's about.
Hayes: But Williamsburg, for example, has a whole line of reproductions that are probably very good quality.
Hayes: But they're not done by a craftsman, right?
Hause: Well, no. From-- depending on what level. I think the Woodwright shop, the gentleman that runs that used to work up there at Williamsburg so you do have the really true craftsmen that basically use the same tools that they did at the time. I'm not so sure about what their gift shops have but I'm just talking about you can purchase the one ofs that are made of the same, you know?
Hayes: And you say to all the people who buy it, this is a reproduction, hand custom made. You don't try to claim that this is...
Hayes: ...somehow you walked out and found an original?
Hause: No. That's not-- there's probably out there that do that. I have two ways. I either-- I have a cartouche that I sign my initials into it, hand carve...
Hayes: What's a cartouche?
Hause: Just basically my logo.
Hause: You know, and it's the RJH, it's on the back of the trailer there, and I'll carve that into the furniture or I have a burn brand mark with the Art of the Craft. So none of my furniture goes pretty much without a signature on it and, when people come in, I point out the originals and basically my piece, the reproduction or what we call contemporary.
Hayes: So now I come to you instead of saying I want a reproduction, I want a Robert Hause original, okay?
Hause: And I can do that.
Hayes: And what would you probably-- in other words, what would be-- if you had that, you know, license to, say, make me an original, would it still probably be an art and crafts infused? I mean...
Hause: Yeah. You know, Harvey Ellis, who worked for Gustav Stickley in a short period of time was an architect and brought a lighter line to the wood that was always considered heavy and massive and he used-- and he's still credited to it because they call it the Ellis Arch. He brought arches and corbels and things like that...
Hayes: What's a corbel?
Hause: Corbel's like a bracket, you know? It adds a delicate edge to something or an arch instead of thick, massive straight piece, just that arch lightens up the furniture. And even though he worked such a short period of time with Gustav Stickley, he's credited with really changing the style of furniture and his pieces are highly sought after. Looking at that and a couple other different makers that made things differently, I've fused those together and taken my own. I took some tables that I made recently and I think it was a combination of Charles Limpert and Harvey Ellis and kind of branched out and made my own design that none of them made but yet you saw some of the details that they had used.
Hayes: And this is okay? In other words, you're building on their tradition, you're not stealing their idea?
Hause: Right. No.
Hayes: This is normal within the furniture industry?
Hause: Oh, yeah.
Hayes: It evolves as opposed to...
Hause: And true collectors, the purest that go to a lot of these shows, arts and craft conference and so on, they want an exact duplication. If the arm was steam bent originally, they want it steam bent instead of laminated.
Hause: So the purest-- that makes up a small percentage of the people out there purchasing but, you know, there are the purists.
Hayes: Have you found other people that are very happy with an arts and craft infused...
Hause: Yeah. And I would say most of my clients may go away more educated in the arts and craft period but most of them may understand or have heard some of the names, you know?
Hayes: Right. So they've...
Hayes: Seldom does someone come in and says, "I want a..."
Hause: Most of the people that are real purists will just buy the antiques and not a reproduction.
Hayes: Well, that's a good point. Yeah.
Hayes: They're going to try to get the money to buy...
Hayes: ...that idea of having it.
Hayes: Do you have a sense that, in that 75-year-period, that the wood has really changed? In other words, do you have a different set of problems today than they did or is it close enough?
Hause: Looking back at some of the old pieces I have and have gotten through the years, I think, because of milling processes and also, you know, I won't say clear cutting but old growth, kind of like heart of pine hear in North Carolina, is all gone.
Hayes: It's gone.
Hause: But the reason why heart of pine was such a good choice of wood was because of slow growth and, you know, they were so-- the trees were so packed naturally, I think the oak was-- and the rays were a lot better, slower growth produced, I think, a prettier wood. I know some people actually only make oak from old growth trees and make furniture from that so they select that. Of course, their pieces would be in the $10,000 price range.
Hayes: Wow, just because of the wood?
Hause: Because of the wood. And they look for old beams like heart of pine now, tear down, like a cotton exchange, all those beams down there are heart of pine so there are places that just mill...
Hayes: Now, heart of pine. Tell me what that means.
Hause: Well, it's just old...
Hayes: Old pine.
Hause: Old pine. Old growth. It's probably about 200 years old at least so, you know, real dense and the oak that we have today I would say is-- the distance between the rings, you know, is because the forests are either, you know, they're a little bit more open than when it was a dense forest. They're able to grow faster.
Hayes: That's interesting.
Hause: So I don't think the wood is as pretty as it used to be but yet getting it a specialty cut still produces sometimes some really nice rays in the wood.
Hayes: Now, the stain, it seems to me, that would become a very pivotal part of your artistic choice. Is the arts and craft driven by a dark look or...
Hause: It's funny you should ask. I think that is probably the biggest thing that you'd recognize Mission furniture or arts and craft furniture.
Hayes: Those are used-- so Mission furniture and arts and craft?
Hause: Yeah. The purists like it to be just the arts and craft period, you know? From that period. Unfortunately, a lot of people, when they think of arts and craft, they think of whirly birds and things you put out in the yard or just...
Hayes: Oh, okay. So arts and craft gets...
Hayes: ...over to another field?
Hause: Yeah. So-- but the American movement, that period, is called the arts and craft period. And sometimes the word Mission is thrown in because Mission thinks of Mission furniture as massive and heavy. So the two have been used basically, you know, in the same. One of the things and what I duplicate here is the same finish process that was used in really Gustav Stickley, again using his name, was renowned for that, was the fuming of wood. It's where, after you make a piece of furniture, you put it in an enclosed tent and you put a dish of 29%, 26 to 29% ammonia ________________ solution and the ammonia comes out of the solution and chemically reacts with the tannic acid in oak to naturally darken it. So it's not a surface treatment. It's not a stain.
Hayes: It's not a stain.
Hause: It's a chemical reaction that goes all the way through the wood.
Hayes: So, at that point, when you're ready to finish that, it's darker?
Hause: When I'm done with the piece of furniture, I'll put it in the tent and then leave it during-- I put out a measured amount of ammonia and then, over time of experience, I know how dark something will get over a period of time, whether it's three hours, six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours.
Hayes: And the tent is a tent?
Hause: It's a tent. It's something I made inside the studio and basically I pick up everything from large front doors to dressers to dividers. So fairly large items I can put in there. And the chemical reaction darkens it and then I make my own shellac, which is made from the lac bug in Asia or India, and it's an excretion from the lac bug and that's what they used, if you look at the early homes downtown on the doors and all the interior trim was all shellac. It's a naturally occurring element.
Hayes: It's made from a bug?
Hause: It's an excretion from a bug that eats from a certain tree. It's a lac bug and, like I said, most of it comes from India and it excretes it and they scrape it off and the pull it into taffy and then you buy it in that.
Hayes: And you...
Hause: I buy it in the flake form of pure and I try not to get the bleached. In other words, it's similar to, like, raw sugar is brown. Processed sugar is white. The shellac you buy in a store is white. It's not-- and it's a three...
Hayes: It's not coming from a chemical plant? See, I always just assumed...
Hause: Well, you have to mix with denatured alcohol to break it down to be able to put it in a solution to apply it but I ________________ my own to get a one-pound weight because, commercially, it's a three-pound weight, which is too thick. And that's what they used was a one-pound and I normally put on three coats, waiting 24 hours between each coat, and then I hand wax with a really good wax afterwards.
Hayes: So the color isn't a stain?
Hayes: You could put a stain on it?
Hayes: Most of yours doesn't really have a stain...
Hause: The fuming process is not a stain. It's a chemical reaction. It was discovered when they torn down old barns. They realized that, in the stable portion, that the oak was a different color and it's from the ammonia.
Hayes: The ammonia. Okay.
Hause: Exactly. And so, to enhance it, too, because the purists like the really dark pieces like-- that surround me right now, I've also developed some "stainings" that are also chemical reactions that go on top as more of a surface treatment but those also chemically react with the tannic acid to get it to that mix level of the really blackened state.
Hayes: When you do your own pieces, like those tables that you just did, do you go lighter? Are you a lighter person?
Hause: I think, over the years, I've gotten a bit darker.
Hause: As I call it, blackened. It's just-- my taste has changed over time. I used to do some in the golden oak but, for a client, I can do what they like.
Hayes: That's part of it. You work with them. But, as an artist, you would go dark?
Hause: Yeah. I've taken stuff to galleries and everybody used to complain that I made such dark furniture and that was on my lighter pieces and I'm thinking, when I went to a show in Grove Park, they used to complain that my stuff wasn't dark enough so you...
Hayes: Interesting. [inaudible]
Hause: Yeah, exactly.
Hayes: That's interesting.
Hause: The purists.
Hayes: So that's shellac. I have never heard that about that.
Hayes: You make your own or you mix your own.
Hause: Yeah. I ray it out, I do basically a one-pound weight, four ounces per quart, so, you know, I mix it. It takes about an hour to stir it up to break it down until it dissolves.
Hayes: Just the way you want it.
Hayes: Does it stay in that stabilized form for a long time?
Hause: I go through it so fast that a quart doesn't last me that long. I've read that its shelf life, keep it out of sunlight and it's about a year. Mine doesn't last but...
Hayes: And you don't mix up a bunch...
Hause: No, I do a quart at a time and it stays pretty, you know, it's on the furniture...
Hayes: You see, the other thing is, so you get the color down and then you do this-- using the techniques and then you shellac it and then you said you hand wax it. Now, what does that mean?
Hause: Well, you get a high-- I use ________________ wax and that's not ________________ but just a high end, either English wax or something and that's-- most furniture nowadays has either a poly coat on it or something like that. It's water resistant as well. Back in those days, they didn't have the chemistry so they didn't have that. It was just shellacked, which will protect the wood but also if you leave a glass on it that's sweating, it will leave a water line ring. The wax will help repel it.
Hause: Yeah. So all my furniture, and I tell the customers that, that if they wanted-- luckily now they make a basically a hand wipe on poly so if you have a coffee table or a dining room table and you want that poly coat on, there is something that will still give it a nice dull finish and not that real satiny-- I mean, real glossy finish that I could put a poly coat on to protect areas ________________. Basically, all of my furniture is just shellacked.
Hayes: Interesting. And this wax just helps it shine?
Hause: Yeah. Shine. Protect it.
Hayes: Protect it.
Hause: And really you only have to dust throughout the time and then maybe once a year at most, depending upon the wear on it, is put another coat of wax on it.
Hayes: Of wax. Interesting.
Hause: Yeah. And if I live close by, I normally will do it for the customer.
Hayes: Wow. That's great. You know, I'm looking behind you and there's a statement which you said you went and gave credit to that, it's...
Hause: Yeah. Rene MacIntosh.
Hayes: You said...
Hause: Oh, okay. It's the craftsmen of the future must be an artist. And, again, it's just a little sign. One of the things offshoot from all this is ________________ to where I can start chiseling and I chisel all my lettering...
Hayes: Okay. That's what I was wondering. Is that-- that's not just a router that...
Hause: No. No, unfortunately, I've gotten kind of known for my lettering and hand carving.
Hayes: Why don't you get that and bring it down and then we can get a closer look at that so that people looking at this tape can get a sense of that.
Hayes: Most lettering today is machine generated with a cutter, right? Of some sort.
Hause: Yeah. Is that in view?
Hayes: That's coming in pretty nice. Craftsmen of the future must be an artist. And so what's this process to get to this-- the cuts in there? How deep are they?
Hause: About an eighth, a little bit over an eighth, maybe 3/16th. It's just time to lay it out, either you stencil it out or trace it out and then just a lot of different sizes for doing, like, an oak. You have to use more of a curved surface in your chisel.
Hayes: So this is an actual chisel?
Hause: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Hayes: So how much time is in that small sign? I mean...
Hause: I think the fastest that I can do would maybe be five, six letters an hour.
Hayes: Five or six letters.
Hause: Yeah. And I've done-- one of the things I've done is a lot of custom front doors for entryways and a lot of them like to have mottos. That's another thing, an offshoot from the arts and craft period was always the education of the people and mottos was a quick way to do it. And so there's, from that timeframe, Elbert Hubbard from Roycroft was a big one for having all those little mottos.
Hayes: Give me an example of a motto. Well, there's one right there.
Hause: Yeah. Craftsmen of the future-- well, the one on that Roycroft style produced great people, the rest follows and that's from Walt Whitman.
Hayes: Oh, so motto meaning a very short statement that has some value.
Hayes: And people, you say, love them on doors?
Hause: Yeah. Quite a few of my clients have ordered doors. The love you ________________ and-- oh, now, you've got me. Yeah. The love you-- all right, time out.
Hayes: Time out. All right.
Hayes: Okay. We're back and we were talking about mottos and now you've got some long ones. No one should be expected to remember all of that.
Hayes: What was the one you were saying?
Hause: One that went to a door in Texas as the love you liberate in your work is the love you keep and another one was...
Hayes: The motto that you kind of follow in your craftsman area.
Hause: Yeah. And it's-- it was from Edward Hubbard again. He was pretty notorious for that and up on his campus, Roycroft campus in east Aurora on a lot of the doors up there, Walt Whitman statement was going into the main chapel, I believe. Also, blessed is that man that has found his work. And that's kind of what I feel like that one rings true with me.
Hause: Yeah. I think I've finally found my little niche that I love. Never a bad day in the shop.
Hayes: Never a bad day. The wood doesn't yell back at you?
Hause: No. No.
Hayes: It can break, though.
Hause: It does pretty well.
Hayes: It does.
Hause: But-- and it's one of those things it started with, when I used to carve my initial or my cartouche with my initials in each piece I made and that started it and then it branched out to doing these mottos and then someone wanted, you know, a bible verse, Joshua 1:9 on the back of a door. So started doing that and, you know, when it starts getting up to 60 letters on the back of a door, that's getting a little bit...
Hayes: It's a little..
Hayes: Now, can you also-- do you also use a router and do them, too?
Hause: No. On the Roycroft, the ________________ Croft was a different-- it wasn't chiseled out as much as it was routed out. So I freehand that with a router, which is very tough. But no, it's just something-- you know, I don't care to do that because-- then I wouldn't want to do it if it didn't have that hand touch because everything I do, the mortis and tenens joints, the pegging, everything is all about hand done, you know, that you just can't find today. So, you know, there's people that have me carve their mailbox that I make and then put their name on it and I just did a sign and shipped it to a client up in Ashville who wanted something out in front of their house. Some people want me to do their mantels. So that's all just a little side venture.
Hayes: But you don't want to have that dominate. After awhile, that would get to be-- you'd do nothing but...
Hause: Yeah, I couldn't do it. My hands are-- it gets tiresome, bending over, depending upon the piece.
Hayes: Do people ask you to design as well? Or do they usually give you guidance on the kind of lettering they want?
Hause: Most of them like it in the arts and craft and that's the Dard Hunter font that I use, which is recognized from that period.
Hause: Another name, Dard Hunter.
Hayes: Dard Hunter.
Hause: During that period.
Hayes: It's a great lesson in history.
Hause: Yeah. Bore you to death with arts and craft.
Hayes: No, I didn't know much about it. It's, you know, it's talked about a lot, particularly in architecture and furniture but I don't think very many people would know the detail that you do, obviously.
Hause: Maybe not in Wilmington but there's, you know, I won't try to act like I'm an expert. I'm only here because most people don't know that much about it but the experts would put me to shame.
Hayes: Although probably art historians, specialized in this period, right?
Hause: Yeah. Exactly.
Hayes: What were the other art movements in this period? You mentioned the clay that you have? Is that...
Hause: Well, yeah. It was all about that. Actually, one of the big things was getting-- almost an environmental movement, was getting back to nature. Was also taking a love of the land. The native Americans, a lot of times you see portraits from that because it was felt like, if they weren't captured, I believe the photographer was Curtis, that it would be lost. A lot of things that go in the arts and craft movement are native American rugs, Navaho weavings, so that period...
Hayes: Really? So the people who had that would reach out to that crowd.
Hause: Exactly. And the pottery. Most of it hand thrown. Even though I might collect Roseville or have it here in the shop, most of it was one of. You have your Rook Wood, Groovy.
Hause: ________________ is the name of a company that made ceramics during that time. The painted vellum. A lot of times, on the early stuff, they had native American Indian chiefs painted on-- just-- they used the medium instead of a portrait on canvas, they used porcelain and it was painted on faces and stuff.
Hayes: The art deco period is a different period?
Hause: Yeah, that's-- yeah. That follows-- it probably went the arts and craft, art Neveu, art deco. Deco's more '20s, '30s.
Hause: So it followed it. And then you get into the whole modernist way after that but...
Hayes: So the arts and crafts, in a sense, was going, you thought, backwards in the sense of basis and you said it's the only American one? I mean, in other words, if somebody said furniture history, is that one of the few that they talk about?
Hause: You can't name any more. They're all basically English, Victorian.
Hayes: So the Colonial period, we did have some great craftsmen but you said...
Hause: Yeah. I guess, maybe, if you say Colonial. Actually, right after the arts and craft, you got the Colonial revival but it was thinking of early pieces but a lot of those were duplications of movements from England. You know, there's not really a piece that's credited with...
Hayes: Now, Shaker is kind of an American one.
Hause: Shaker, yeah, but Shaker is really more of a-- not a-- it is a style but now you're question-- you're going to have to edit all this.
Hause: No, but the Shaker-- Shaker is, you know, from more of the religious sect, you know? That made that early primitive furniture and I guess then you could say, well, then there's primitive furniture and stuff like that. But I don't know, Shaker still is today but it's in that form but I don't know that it's a movement.
Hause: You know? Recognized such as Edwardian...
Hayes: An art movement?
Hause: Yeah. And the whole period.
Hayes: So was there a painting movement in the arts and craft as well? I mean, I don't know myself.
Hause: I think one that comes to mind would be Augustov[ph?] Bowman, who did wood blocks and highly sought after and to this day. Unfortunately, I don't own any. And that, you know, every part of that was all tied in. It was into naturalist forms. You know, whether an outside scenic scene, whether it was photography or what so it was all into, if you want to say, more of a earthy line.
Hayes: Was there an audience of that time period that they've identified that was particularly drawn to this? Was it the ________________ society necessarily or anybody?
Hause: They try to say it was for the masses but the furniture...
Hayes: Was expensive.
Hause: ...was expensive for the, you know, 1900, I think the average yearly salary was $500 so furniture was $12 to $23 apiece, which sounds like nothing today but, at that time, that's a lot of money. So it still fell on the...
Hayes: Upper middle class.
Hause: Way upper middle class up to the wealthy. Almost the same clientele that are able to purchase the original pieces today, you know? So it's right up there.
Hause: Exactly. Barbara Streisand, Spielberg, a lot of those were known collectors of the arts and craft period.
Hayes: Oh, is that right?
Hause: And they're, you know, people that were-- I think Andy Warhol was one of the first to buy a George ________________ in the 10 to 20,000 price range.
Hayes: Are there any particular museums that have made their mark by going through this period?
Hause: I don't know of any. I know that, from time to time, a collection might go through and it would be with Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley, that type movement, you know. Frank Lloyd Wright more considered the prairie school, you know, but I know, from time to time, that they do have pieces. About the only other thing that came at that same time was Tiffany, the ________________ Tiffany. So his art glass was of that same time period.
Hayes: Which is very different. I mean, that's...
Hause: But his lamps and shades and, you know, the lily lamps, the tulips, you know, flowers...
Hayes: That's true. Natural things.
Hause: Exactly. It's the same thing and the bases, that's why a ________________ Tiffany's are sought after to this day is because of the fact not only did the glass, blown glass have a theme, it was followed all the way through the face. If it was a lily lamp, the base was lily pads. So same...
Hayes: Okay. So it's the same theme.
Hause: Same theme of-- and all high quality. Always the best quality.
Hause: And, again, what's the most expensive today? The quality. You know, it's not stuff that was thrown out.
Hayes: You had mentioned one of your pieces was invited up to Cameron Museum for an exhibit so tell me about that.
Hause: Yeah, that was definitely out of the blue because, again, when you think of artwork, the first thing you think of something that hangs on a wall and doesn't have a function of, you know, of use as much as beauty. Ann Brenner, I'll credit her out there, had happened to mention that, you know, I needed to get away from that thinking and it was the first time I entered any type of event like that.
Hayes: This was a regional art show?
Hause: Yeah. And I'm probably misquoting here but it was, like, the south eastern region, you know, and it was a ________________ event.
Hayes: And she was pleased to have the...
Hause: Yeah. And I brought a Harvey Ellis, Gustav Stickley dresser, nine-drawer dresser that I had made and, again, once again, those forms, the arches, the reverse tapered legs, and with the overhangs of the top of the dresser kind of gave those architectural features and it was selected, out of numerous pieces that were submitted. And, of the two pieces I brought, that was selected to be in and I guess it was beginner's luck because I had never entered into any type of, you know, ________________ art. And so it was nice to have that.
Hayes: But I think that the art museum is recognizing the craftsmen, as your sign says, is the artist. There's kind of a blending there and a blurring of where does art start and where does craft start or where does reproduction even start? So in a recent show at Cameron, was the costume designer, amazing, which, of course, is for very practical purposes, right? But bringing it back to show the technique and the art that came out of it, people were just amazed at it and I think the same for your field. That is, if someone saw the techniques and the thinking that you had put into it, they would realize that it's not just a manufacturing...
Hause: Right. And I guess in the word-- using the word sometimes reproduction is not a good word because you think of some cheap knockoff.
Hause: You know, well, and I use it. I made a reproduction of an original but it's to the nth degree, you know? It's not to make it faster such as, say, for instance, China making the quick knockoff to make it cheaper.
Hause: It's still labor intensive, you know, whether you're doing a through mortis and tenens joint pegged, it's-- you're reproducing what the original style and the original labor that went into it and the original love of the work. So we're officially called contemporary craftsmen.
Hayes: Oh, okay.
Hause: Crafts firms when we do the shows so that there is no-- there is not trying to fool an audience that this is an original piece. We admire the original so much that we make reproductions of it because, you know, it's almost out of flattery.
Hayes: And then you do your own work, which is truly an artistic endeavor?
Hayes: And the fact that you were influenced by a particular period doesn't matter because every artist is...
Hayes: In fact, I would think that, within the, you know, the kind of art as furniture movement that there's people doing very modern and abstract things and, you know, in other words, people view furniture just as another sculpture in some ways, don't they? I mean...
Hause: Well, you know, that's not for me to judge.
Hayes: [inaudible] practical. You wouldn't make something that you wouldn't use, right?
Hause: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. There is some that will do more of a sculpture type thing, you know, along those lines. Mine is definitely something that's practical to use. A lot of pieces that I make for someone else, I'll make two of so that I keep one of them.
Hayes: Oh, is that right?
Hause: That's the offshoot of it.
Hayes: So let's just-- with the kind of variety. I don't think people realize how many different kinds of things you might make, okay? Behind you is a huge...
Hayes: Is that a bench?
Hause: A bench ________________. It's my interpretation of an early Gustav Stickley piece.
Hayes: [inaudible] all different styles and types?
Hause: Yeah. Unfortunately, my inventory is real low right now because I just finished a show and had a really good show so I came back with an empty trailer but the Morris chair, which is named after William Morris from England...
Hayes: I'm talking more in general, cabinets, chairs, is this...
Hause: A fern stand.
Hayes: That was...
Hause: Taberets[ph?], which are tables.
Hayes: This is [inaudible]
Hause: That's a magazine stand.
Hayes: They called it a magazine stand?
Hause: Well, no. That's, yeah, a book stand.
Hayes: Book stand.
Hayes: The panels, is it...
Hause: Yeah. Panel...
Hayes: [inaudible] in this period?
Hause: It was. More with leather works instead of stained glass. I have an artisan from Atlanta who does my stained glass for me and we work together. Actually, we share some of the booths at some of the shows now. But I did just recently do the ________________ original divider and it was in leather, hand tooled leather from a Roycroft renaissance worker so, you know, working with other artisans sometimes we join our work together to reproduce something. My pulls on my dressers are all hand hammered copper and patinaed by someone out of Michigan who...
Hayes: So an artisan in furniture is pulling together a teamwork of things. I mean, you are the dominant person because of the wood but you use all kinds of other specialty...
Hause: Exactly. I'm always looking for something, I want to do something in the MacIntosh line and possibly using stained glass or hand hammered cooper so, yeah, it actually enhances it if you use more. And, again, not to drop the name but Gustav Stickley originally was United Crafts and that was unite a bunch of craftsmen together and it was something I always had an interest in and if you could get a couple of them under the same house and doing similar to Acme Art but yet all pulling together for one piece.
Hayes: Interesting. True coalition.
Hause: Yeah. Because most of these places, most of these businesses had, you know, they had someone working in leather. They had someone working in copper and sometimes the pieces like all the pulls on the drawers were all used.
Hayes: Well, I think there's kind of a-- in the artistic world, we've gone so much to the individual, we don't think about the teamwork but that's been common in lots of different fields of craftsmen or artisans. You have to have the teamwork. Nobody can specialize in all of those.
Hayes: Now, you must, over the years, have developed kind of a set of people that you really, really like and can use all the time. That's part of the experience, right?
Hause: Exactly. Because, you know, it's a quality thing and when you've worked with that person and they know the arts and craft period, you don't have to try to explain it to them because they've been in it, too, and you know most of these people are experts in their field. So it's an easy coalition.
Hayes: Now, you had talked-- we just have a couple minutes but I just wondered, you keep talking about shows and I just wanted to understand that. These are where various craftspeople and artists bring together material of a similar vein? In other words, it could be an arts and craft show or it could be a time period show and then, what, customers come to those shows? You talk and sell from that? Do you get work from that?
Hause: A combination of both. Sometimes they'll purchase outright things that you've brought and so I have to build throughout the years just for these shows to have examples of. Or they'll order from it and just coming freshly back from a show, I do have people that are-- saw something they liked and now want their version of it or larger table or chairs and so...
Hayes: And that's how you get word of mouth that's much bigger than Wilmington, right? Because you mentioned Texas, you mentioned...
Hause: Oh, yeah.
Hayes: Your customers can come from...
Hause: All over. Most of the stuff I ship out and, you know, I don't advertise here locally and, right now, I don't advertise at all so it's all word of mouth and doing shows.
Hayes: And do you use the internet at all?
Hause: I have a website.
Hayes: Just so that people can see you.
Hause: Yeah. And, you know, just like anybody, a plumber with a leaky faucet at home, you know, I just don't have the time to keep my website updated. But it's something I need to do.
Hayes: Well, listen, thank you very much. I'd like to end with that statement again because I think that really represents what you're doing.
Hause: Well, by MacIntosh, was the craftsman of the future must be an artist.
Hayes: That's great. And thank you for being a UNCW graduate. That's kind of exciting. I'll be sure to call some of the folks in geology and say...
Hause: Don't. (laughter)
Hayes: It's really great work and I'm excited that we're going to work with you to bring a small piece to Randall Library.
Hause: Thank you.