OUR STORY & PHILOSOPHY
Kate Fox is a combat veteran who served in the Middle East in 2005. Since returning she has struggled with PTSD, but has been determined to work through the symptoms to achieve independence. The Office of Veteran’s Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation Office granted her the opportunity to study with Gary Rogowski at The Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon where she learned the art of designing and creating traditionally joined furniture.
Working with wood in a quiet, meditative way gave her the peace she’d been seeking. Kate graduated from the NWS in 2014 and founded Shrewd Woodworks.
The more Kate focused on man-powered craftsmanship, the more she realized the industrial production of the modern day furniture to be unsustainable and wasteful, and also began to feel strongly that the modern processes are irreverent to the materials required and ecological sacrifices made to create, what should be, enduring works of usefulness and beauty.
“I felt a twinge of guilt looking at every piece I made. I was creating at too high a moral expense. I didn't know where my lumber was coming from, what cost it collected from the Earth when forests were being felled and transported and kiln dried in terrifying quantities. My rough materials come perfectly packaged into a conveniently consumable product, with the environment footing the bill. I can't reconcile not trying to find a better way”
As a result, ethical sourcing became an essential part of Kate’s work. The only financially viable option for a mostly broke veteran in a economy that puts higher price tags on anything ecologically responsible was sourcing it herself, from standing tree to finished piece.
It's also pretty badass, and she likes that kind of thing.
She watches for fallen trees and is a handy friend to have during storm seasons. She also maintains connections with arborists around town. When a tree comes down, by nature or by plan, she does her best to salvage and utilize as much material as possible. The parts that are suitable for furniture and boxes are rived, that is split by hand; using various axes, adzes, wedges and froe, rather than cut by electric saw. This results in lumber that is stronger and sturdier than similarly sized sawn lumber, because the grain remains uninterrupted. She also prefers hand tools for joinery and shaping work over power tools and metal fasteners, and applies her knowledge of wood movement to build works of art that are as durable as they are lovely.
“It has changed everything. I've been obsessively studying how humans had been crafting from wood long before the Industrial Revolution, when it was often one human, one tree, and a few hand tools. Nothing need go to waste, no extra costs to the environment. To succeed in merging form, function and ethics in a single work, one must be shrewd.”
Kate enjoys incorporating leather and natural fabrics into her works and does her best to ethically source or up-cycle these materials. In 2017 she also began processing animal hides sourced from local farms with plans to create fur upholstered furniture pieces that continue to adhere to her ethical standards. She processes these pelts by hand using traditional, environmentally responsible methods. The hides of farm animals, whether butchered for food, culled due to health or passed from natural causes, are often wasted. By using every possible part of a living thing after it’s gone, plant or animal, she feels she does honor to its existence and the place it inhabited in our world.
Shrewd Woodworks continues to produce fine woodcrafts. Each piece is hand made with a minimal of machining by Kate and with the assistance of her apprentice Matt. We hope to continue to create beautiful, ethical works of functional art, as well as educate readers and patrons on the many uses of one of man’s oldest mediums.