When Kelly Parker creates a piece of furniture, it is also a piece of art.
The biochemist-turned-woodworker is the creative force behind Woodsong Studio north of Parkville. Parker turns reclaimed wood and fallen trees into memorable pieces that serve function with beauty.
After 18 years in the corporate world, she left her job in 2010 with a dream to become a furniture maker.
She is already receiving national attention in woodworking circles and is working her way into the high-end art-studio furniture market.
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Q. How did you get started?
A. There were several small things that happened to help push me out of the corporate world and start making furniture. I had done a lot of woodworking. I told my husband I was going to quit and start woodworking. He has been very supportive.
I had a friend who gave me every issue of Fine Woodworking that he had. I probably spent the first six months reading Fine Woodworking.
Then I started taking classes at Mark Adams School of Woodworking (in Indiana). Those are weeklong classes. What works best for me is a full-immersion experience.
I was fortunate enough to intern with a great retired maker here in Kansas City, David Polivka. I also scored an internship with a maker in Canada. I’ve also spent two summers there as an artist in residence. Those types of experiences have been really helpful for me.
Q. Has it been what you expected?
A. I had no idea this was inside of me. What I am building is completely different than what I thought I would be doing. I thought I would just be making something utilitarian.
I had no idea furniture could be sculpture. I had never been exposed to furniture like this before. I love curve and creating shapes. I love spaces. I play with the illusion of parts hovering away from each other. I was a million miles away from where I thought I would be.
Q. What kind of wood do you like to work with?
A. I like gifted wood, found wood, reclaimed wood, because I love the story of it. I feel like reclaimed wood has such a history to it, and I feel like the story and what that wood was before creates a bond with you and the object that has been created.
I will never go buy new lumber. It’s soulless. It’s hormone-injected. It’s not as pretty. It’s not as strong. To me the story is a really important part of what I do. I like taking wood from somebody’s property and making something out of that wood for them, because that’s the continuation of their story.
Q. How has being a chemist affected your art as a woodworker?
A. I feel that it allows me to understand finishes I use better. If I do an oil finish, it’s kind of a home brew that I make. It’s a three-component finish. I know how to blend those components to get the performance I want out of it.
Being a scientist also allows me to be super accurate with what I do. Getting the parts to come together sometimes requires perfection.
Q. What is your process like?
A. I’m doing one-of-a-kind, never-been-made stuff. I can’t Google how to make it. I have to figure it out. All of the troubleshooting is part of my job. I design a piece, but then I have to figure out how to make it.
I recently built a table that took three months, because there were parts of it that I built three times. I mocked it up, I prototyped it full size to see how the joints would come together. I sketch. Then I make a quarter-size model, which allows me to see the proportions in 3D. Once I figure out the process and build jigs, then I do it on the real piece of wood.
Q. What do you think would surprise people about woodworking?
A. Designing a piece is a delicate balance between me telling the wood what it’s going to be and the wood telling me what it’s going to be.
Woodworking is an incredibly intimate experience. My hands are all over this thing. I love the way it feels. I love the way it sounds when little pieces of wood tinkle onto the floor. There’s not a thing about wood that I don’t like. I put so much energy and love into the pieces I create. That’s not something you get from Ikea or a furniture mart.