Q + A with Abigail Castaneda
The material an artist works with is always of great importance, and in the case of Abigail Castaneda this sentiment could not be more true. Based in Kerhonkson, NY, a small hamlet between the Shawangunk and Catskill Mountains, Abigail lives close to the lumber she works with, and is involved in its preparation from start to finish. We spoke with her about this, and her relationship to her surroundings in more detail below.
What led you to woodworking ?
I had an instinctual impulse to create furniture for my home upon moving into a new space. Much of the furniture I discovered and loved from artists and makers was well out of my budget, so I decided to try woodworking as a hobby in order to furnish my dwelling. After this, I sought a job at a furniture & tabletop company where I learned industry standards and production lathe work. I eventually opened my studio and began focusing on the raw aspects of wood and trees, which remains a taproot in my work.
What about your environment affects your work ?
I enjoy the simplicity of living close to my materials. There is a grounding and relational aspect to the forest where we both draw our resources. I also regard trees as possessing a sentient quality. This shows up in my process as polarity. I am deliberate with my cuts and my methods, but I also make space for the material to do something of its own accord. The latter is what keeps me open to inspiration from a larger source, and it’s also what keeps me curious and engaged with my materials.
Is there a certain tree/ material that you favor and why ?
There are so many species of trees with unique qualities that I hesitate to pick a favorite. I enjoy using Maple for tabletop objects because it has a delicate grain pattern. I have recently been experimenting with ashes in finishing and am finding that, much like ceramics, different species contain diverse compounds that produce a range of colors when applied directly to the surface wood.
What do you use to finish your pieces ?
The unique pieces I’ve created for The Primary Essentials are treated with a ceramic finish imported from Japan. This finish is made from silica, a common mineral that is the element used to create glass. It is durable without compromising the inherent characteristics of the wood. It’s also non-toxic and food safe.
Are all of your pieces created only by you, or do you have a small team ?
At the moment, it’s just me.
How long is that process of creating one of your pieces, from start to finish (including the sourcing of the material?)
Working with green lumber requires a closely controlled drying process, which can take several weeks to months. The trees I work with are sourced seasonally from local arborists and mostly felled due to storms. I receive them as whole logs and butcher them carefully according to their unique grain pattern. Bowls, for example, are carved on the lathe and then steamed at a high temperature which begins the curing process. It may seem counterintuitive to steam something that you are essentially trying to dry, but this process relaxes the cell structure within the wood. This concept is also behind bending furniture and traditional methods of boat making. Once cured, they are ready for finishing. Each finish has its process, but most involve several applications of natural compounds, oils, or waxes, and sanding in various stages.
If you could choose another medium to work in what would it be and why ?
Dance. I love the simplicity of having everything you need for expression in your body alone and the thought that one’s body can be a vessel for containment or other cathartic gestures.
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