NCWA was formed in 1984 when two Skagit County woodworkers, Asher Cohen and Gary Arentzen, decided “It would be cool to get together with other woodworkers and share ideas.” Initially, the group included Al Rosen, Ted Scherrer, Jim Hume, and Tim Place in addition to Asher and Gary, but it didn’t take long for the word to spread to others. Meetings were held in each other’s shops and, when it was your turn, you had to demonstrate or discuss something you were good at. Members collaborated on interesting design variations on projects such as hall tables and other pieces. They held their first public woodworking show in the Sedro-Woolley Forest Service facility (shared with the Cascade National Park). Many initial members were serious woodworkers striving to be professional woodworkers and others had professional lives, but enjoyed making and selling their work. Many were furniture or cabinet makers, but there were also carvers, turners and even a chainsaw carver (Rocky MacArthur).
In 1986, the club participated in Arts Alive in La Conner with a show in Maple Hall and was featured in the Skagit Valley Herald Arts and Entertainment section. The following year, NCWA members formed Artwood, an art cooperative in Bellingham. The initial location was on Grand Avenue, and was shared with a small coffee shop and other tenants. After less than a year, a better location in Fairhaven became available when the Bellingham Community Food Coop moved to a larger building. The original NCWA group realized they needed more artists to make Artwood viable as a business, so several non-NCWA members were invited to join the group. After lots of work, they opened their new store on Harris Avenue in May of 1988 and are still in operation.
Shows Through The Years
The club continued doing shows at Arts Alive and, in 1990, also did a show in The Depot Gallery, the old Anacortes train station, during the Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival. In 1996, a group from NCWA organized WoodFest in downtown Sedro-Woolley in front of businesses on Main Street. The next year, high school woodshop projects were included in WoodFest and that tradition has continued as an annual event. In 1998, WoodFest moved to Sedro-Woolley High School and Mike Stewart, Sedro-Woolley High School wood shop teacher (and former NCWA member) was one of the main organizers. Eventually, Mike became chairman of the event and worked to prevent woodworking programs from being eliminated from high school curriculums. From then on, woodworking classes from many local high schools have competed regularly. NCWA helped judge the event for several years.
The La Conner Arts Alive venue for NCWA eventually changed from Maple Hall to the Garden Club, an old Grange building on Second Street, which was also the original territorial courthouse. NCWA shared that facility with the Northwest Washington Woodturners (NWWWT) and remained there until 2009 when asked to find another venue. Two vacant shops were tried with mixed success and our final show there was held in the La Conner Retirement Inn in 2016. When NCWA vacated La Conner Garden Club, Jim Bucknell organized our first Burlington Cascade Mall show. NCWA did shows there from 2011-2015 in the atrium area in front of Macy’s. In 2016, NCWA returned to Anacortes by doing live demonstrations at the Anacortes Arts Fest and have received $300 each year for that effort. Currently, WoodFest and the Anacortes Arts Fest are our only annual shows.
Club Meetings And Programs
In the early 90’s membership declined and the club nearly folded, probably because professional members were spending most of their time trying to make money at Artwood. Fortunately, they conducted a membership recruitment drive and saved the club. Gary Holloman, Al Stratton, and Ray deVries remained active and Bob Doop did a lot to stimulate and bring new energy to the club. Al Stratton started the club library and also taught woodturning. There were other informal education sessions in member shops. On one occasion, Dutch artist Nora Hall was hired to teach a two day carving workshop in Gary Holloman’s shop. Other members who joined in the 90’s are mentionable because they are still current members and have made many contributions to the club; Val and Laura Matthews, and “Low Tech” Phil Choquette. Phil was very instrumental in organizing NCWA’s participation in many of our woodworking shows and also brought the monthly “Bring and Brag” sessions to a new level with jig ideas. Val and Laura have hosted the annual picnic at their place since 2002. Mike Larvia followed by Gene Benson and Val started the Toys for Tots program in 2003 and, over the years, many club members have participated in making wooden toys in
support of the Marine Corp Reserve Toys for Tots program. Val is also one of the club’s most active instructors.
In 1996, there were enough woodturners to start their own club, the Northwest Washington Woodturners, although several turners maintained memberships in both clubs.
In 2000, Ed Pysher joined the club and would become one of the prime movers in the club, especially with the education program and welcoming new members. He went on to hold nearly every position on the Board including Treasurer, Vice President, President, Education Chair, and Membership Chair.
In 2003, President Nick Van instituted separate NCWA board meetings to free up membership meeting time for woodworking presentations and discussion.
In 2004, the NCWA board, under President Rick Anderson, decided to relocate meetings to the Hillcrest Lodge in Mt Vernon. Meetings began there in 2005 and we’re still there today. Monthly meetings now include Bring and Brag (a chance to showcase your own work), presentations on woodworking by guest speakers and club members, and a chance to socialize and discuss woodworking. To fill the gap from the loss of shop meetings, semi-annual shop tours were also added in 2005.
Since membership in NCWA has shifted from professionals to mostly hobbyists with a wide range of abilities, NCWA’s education program has evolved with experienced members teaching beginning skills and specific woodworking subjects and projects. Instructors help beginning and intermediate woodworkers safely gain basic skills more quickly and provide new learning opportunities for all members of the club. Education is one of the most important benefits in the club.
Fine Woodworking Design Book Five, 1990, featured an article on the start of Artwood by NCWA and included information about Michael Strong, Vernon Leibrant, Lance and Karen Howell, and Jim Hume. Jim Hume also authored an article in Home Furniture in 1996 on his modern version of a Windsor rocker done in Mahogany, and he was invited to turn an ornament for the Clinton White House Christmas tree. At least three NCWA members have been featured in Fine Woodworking Magazine. Former member Tony Konovaloff wrote three articles, “A Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest”, #90 (1991), “Glazing Cabinet Doors”, #116 (1996), and “Housed Sliding Dovetails”, #123 (1997). Cec Braeden wrote the article “Rock Solid Plywood Bench”, #181 (2006). Tom Dolese authored the article “Strategies for Making a Living Building Furniture” in 2014 and his settle was also featured in #247 in the Readers Gallery section. Jack McKee has written two books: “Woodshop for Kids” and “Builder Boards: How to Build a Set of Notched Boards Children Can Use”. Former member Jay Smith was commissioned to build a 56’ replica of a Viking longboat. Another commission of a 36’ Viking longboat was launched in 2017.