Going with the Grain

11/30/2017

Winter 2017

Furniture designer and artist Bill Wessinger stays true to his roots.

Craftsmanship was always in the cards for Bill Wessinger. “My grandfather on my mom’s side was forever building things and had us help out,” says this sixth-generation Oregonian. “And throughout school, we had a strong woodworking program. So working with my hands was always something I did, but it wasn’t something I ever thought would turn into a career. I had an idea in my head that I had to pursue a more impressive field, like engineering.”

The lathe and the level kept pulling him back, however. He built himself a sleek, cedar strip canoe. Borrowing the rib construction of boatbuilding, he fashioned a series of open-framed whale sculptures. Then, after filling in for his former shop teacher, he cast his net wider. “I’d done a piece of furniture here and there, but while moving things around his shop, there was a piece he’d made that really caught my eye. It was a three-legged stool designed by [influential Danish woodworker] Tage Frid. After that, I was hooked.”

Wessinger got an out-of-print book of Frid’s plans and built the stool himself. It was at that point, he says, that he became serious about creating his own furniture – simple, clean-lined pieces that celebrate the beauty of the Oregon white oak he sources from a family-owned, sustainable mill. “When I put the rear seat down in my Impreza, I have plenty of room to haul wood,” he says. 

When he’s not in his shop, Wessinger is often found hiking or on the water, a tradition carried on from his father’s side of the family. “My grandparents were very passionate about the outdoors and very involved in The Nature Conservancy,” he says. “My grandmother liked to tell the girls I dated that she’d climbed Mount Rainier! I think I get some of my passion for the outdoors from them.” 

The Tage Frid stool that inspired Wessinger to create furniture (with kittens Commodore and Tilly).
The Tage Frid stool that inspired Wessinger to create furniture (with kittens Commodore and Tilly).