"There is no good
and bad art. Art is something that comes from your own heart and your own mind."
-Lois Keneer Ventura
Keneer Ventura is a seasoned veteran when it comes to breaking into male-dominated
activities. Growing up as the only girl of seven children, she found herself constantly
having to do everything better than her brothers if she wanted to play with them.
But when she started doing everything better, they didn't want to play with her
anymore, or they didn't want to play fairly. It's amazing that Lois still has
such a strong attraction to wood after being locked up in the cedar chest countless
times by her brothers while playing hide-and-seek.
not all the men in her life were as taxing on her emotional reserves. She watched
her father and grandfather work with wood while she was growing up, and in admiring
their creations, found herself naturally drawn to wood. Her grandfather was a
particular source of inspiration. He built his own log home in the 1950s, and
to decorate it, would search the forest for odd wood shapes that he would turn
into wall hangings and sconces. Lois was attracted to the natural shapes and textures
of these pieces, and today, many of her grandfather's ideas go into her boxes.
"Earth's waters sway to ancient rhythms of the cosmos"
in this box of walnut with maple drawer pulls.
started her self-directed woodworking education 20 years ago, and dabbled in furniture,
scrollwork, and intarsia as hobbies while she worked various odd jobs. Although
she tried a few night woodworking courses out of curiosity, most of her woodworking
education she found in books. When asked how she feels about people who look down
on self-taught artists, she answers objectively: having participated in numerous
art shows she has seen the pendulum swing both ways. She's seen projects by many
artists with superior education who lack the talent and creativity to translate
that training into superior artwork. On the opposite hand, she has become successful
simply by teaching herself.
decided to make woodworking her part-time job in 1985. In 1992, after growing
tired of jobs where she wasn't paid what she was worth, Lois decided to quit the
mainstream world to take up woodworking full-time.
decision to make woodworking her career meant that she would once again have to
prove herself in a male-dominated pursuit. To do this, she decided to view her
work as a product of novelty rather than of minority, an attitude that helped
her break into a male-dominated profession with few problems. She does still encounter
ignorance in men who assume that she only does the measuring and sanding for Knothome
Designs, the woodworking business she and her husband, Peter, established to sell
their original designs. Generally, she finds that many male woodworking professionals
are intimidated by their female peers, a fact that she advises women to use to
their advantage. She adds that there's no need to be arrogant, since the men are
already scared of you, but adds that you shouldn't have to sit through hours of
unwanted advice from men who assume that they know more about woodworking than
Lois knows woodworking. She has been focusing her design efforts solely on bandsawn
boxes for the past seven years, producing over 500 individual pieces. She sells
the boxes through Knothome Designs or displays them at juried art shows all over
the eastern United States. She has won countless awards; the most recent include
the Festival Award at the Three Resorts Festival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
the Designer's Craftsman Award for Excellence at the Canton Museum, in Canton,
Ohio; and another top award at Cincinnati's Summer Art Show.
asked what keeps her going, Lois jokingly suggests credit card debt. While she
loves the freedom self-employment offers, she adds that "craziness"
comes with doing woodworking for a living. Artists must be painstaking in their
efforts, but for little compensation. Lois often finds this frustrating. To make
a reasonable living as a woodworker, she would have to concentrate her efforts
on mass-produced, high-demand, lower-quality, "stapled-together" items
like cabinets and furniture that leave little room for her artistic sensibilities.
all the "craziness" worth it? Lois says yes. Her gratification comes
from expressing herself through designing and completing a project, applying the
first coat of oil to it, and stepping back in admiration. And we all know there's
no craziness in that.
Lois Keneer Ventura's : "Building Beautiful Boxes with Your Band Saw"
Women in Woodworking's graphic designer, Kris, brought a copy of Lois Keneer Ventura's
Building Beautiful Boxes with Your Bandsaw to the development table, I was instantly
intrigued. To grasp the idea of devoting all your woodworking hours to one type
of project, while still being able to make each piece an individual work of art,
I simply had to ask, "Why bandsawn boxes?"
Lois wanted a unique woodworking creation to display at juried art shows and contests,
where artists must create all their pieces from their own original designs, rather
than from someone else's patterns. But she also wanted a design that would allow
her greater artistic expression than she could achieve through standard woodworking
practices. "I don't like measuring," she revealed. With bandsawn boxes,
she found that the exact measurements required were only for the basic length,
depth, and width. Once on the bandsaw a box "takes on a life of its own."
created her first box in 1993. It sits atop a bookshelf in the Ventura home, and
after glancing at it during our conversation, Lois commented that it seemed crude
to her in terms of technique, with rather tight spots in the design that were
very difficult to sand and chisel. Still, the box became a great learning tool
in the end, and all the problems she ran into trying to construct it helped her
refine her design strategies, evidenced in the following pieces, a sampler of
In The Vernal Equibox "new life celebrates
the first sunrise of
spring."; Lois designed this six-drawer "box" to symbolize a germinating
plant or a shapely tree. The design combines walnut in free-form with the only
piece of worm-streaked maple that Lois has ever seen.
Names for Creative Projects
Lois is fond of thinking of creative names
like The Vernal Equibox for her pieces. And rightly so, given the creativity
that goes into making them.
begins her work on each piece by selecting the type of wood she wants to use.
While she credits her grandfather -- who would search the forest to find wood
for his pieces -- as a source of inspiration for her boxes, she can't go outside
the lumberyard to get her stock like he did. At one time she was able to, but
once she focused all her efforts into bandsawn boxes, she found that she had to
use kiln-dried lumber. Wood that is dried naturally never gets dry enough: any
leftover moisture makes the wood split on the bandsaw.
the Right Wood
she lives in an area with many sawmills and can get plenty of board feet of her
favorite types of wood. These include birdseye maple and walnut, both of which
appear in this piece, Phoenix. She'll spend several hours hand selecting
rough-sawn, four-quarter stock, paying special attention to the grain and color
and how both will appear in the finished piece.
refuses to use exotic wood to create her boxes. Instead, she'd prefer to do her
part to help preserve the environment by creating from the more abundant species
in her area. But common stock doesn't result in common pieces. Instead, she works
the wood into wonderful designs with unique meanings. Phoenix is named for the
mythical figure that is reborn from its own fire and ash; to her the piece symbolizes
renewal and the heralding of the dawn of a new age.
Lois's birdseye maple version of the ancient Japanese coastal monuments that warn
of the huge tidal waves produced by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. This is
a favorite among Lois's admirers. The unique heart streaks through the stock are
what make this version of the often-produced design a particular favorite of Lois's.
begins each box by planing the rough-sawn, four-quarter, kiln-dried wood, and
then resawing it. She then joints to produce one piece, approximately 5' to 6'
long and 5" to 6" wide. Lois joints the pieces for the same reason she
only uses kiln-dried lumber: if she tried to produce a design from one solid block
of wood, the wood would split, an event that Lois is careful to avoid.
she sands the wood to the proper thickness, measures, cuts, and glues it, Lois
applies lamination to the wood with bookmatching technique to bring out the natural
laminating, the box parts and details are ready to be cut out with the bandsaw.
And then comes the most painstaking part of the process: obtaining perfect shape
and smoothness through hours of machine-sanding, hand-sanding, and chiseling.
Nowadays, Lois makes sure that her designs allow easy access to all nooks and
crannies, a lesson learned from difficulties she encountered when making her first
can take Lois anywhere from 12 to 50 hours to complete one box. The time depends
on the design, the number of drawers, the number of tight areas that need to be
shaped, and so on. While Lois relies on some assembly line tactics to make her
boxes, such as planing or resawing a number of boards at once, she bandsaws and
shapes each box individually, which results in unique variations of the same design.
many have asked for larger pieces, Lois keeps the boxes small. Because of the
technique she uses, in which the box is essentially sculpted out of the wood,
large pieces such as hutches and dressers would be nearly impossible to move because
of their weight.
general, Lois prefers not to dabble with new designs requested by customers, no
matter how big or small. Instead, she tends to stick to a specific product line
of her own designs, to which she adds new designs to from time to time. Despite
the focus on specific designs, each individual box has unique characteristics
resulting from the the wood used to create it.
Product, Many Results
"Solar winds ruffle luminous curtains of
magnetic activity in Earth's ionosphere" in this example of Aurora,
one of Lois's designs named for the Goddess of the Dawn. The four-drawer box combines
birdseye maple drawer pulls with an interesting piece of poplar Lois found in
her lumberyard searches. When Lois applied a linseed oil/plant resin finish, an
import from Germany, to the heartwood, it turned very dark in some places, and
very colorful in others: traces of pink, white, purple, olive green, and black
all appear in this piece, each accented by the linseed/resin finish, which Lois
buffed to achieve a soft, satin-like appearance.
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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Copyright; 2010 Woodworker's Journal
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