Master furniture maker Joseph Elbert. PHOTO CREDIT: KATHY LEGG
Sometimes storm clouds truly do have silver linings. Certainly the wild derecho that swept across West Virginia in 2012, taking down devastating swathes of mature oak, cherry, walnut and maple trees, left in its wake an opportunity for award-winning furniture maker Joseph Elbert.
“The idea that these beautiful giants would be cut up merely for firewood was too sad to think about,” says Elbert. “I wanted them to have a second life, to be enjoyed for years to come.” He bought up every fallen tree he could find and he and his neighbors dragged them into his yard. A sawmill processed the trees and he soon had 4,000 board feet of green lumber. Using an ingenious solar kiln, he was able to reduce air-drying time, and every piece of furniture he built that year was made of “derecho wood.”
Before becoming one of the country’s most interesting new furniture artisans, Joe Elbert had another life, which was no less creative. He spent decades as a photojournalist, knocking down top prizes, including recognition as one of the top 10 newspaper photographers in America. During 20 years with the Washington Post, he and his staff set a new award-winning record that included four Pulitzer Prizes.
Elbert, who believes that “furniture should be a celebration and have a ‘wow’ factor,” began creating what he felt was missing from the marketplace in 2011. Beyond the innate beauty of the materials themselves, he draws inspiration from “Art Deco skyscrapers, Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic blending of metal and wood, and the cantilevered overhangs of mid-century modern buildings.” As with his photography, Elbert’s strong sense of design and artistic sensibilities have carried him to the top of his class.
In 2013, his Chair with Table entry received an Award of Excellence from the West Virginia Juried Exhibition. In 2014, Tamarack’s Artisan Retail Center chose to display his work in a dedicated space and it has sold well. And in January, Elbert won a prestigious NICHE Award in the Furniture: Tables and Seating category for his “Homage to Mid-Century” cherry desk and matching chair