A Burnt Hills woodworker committed to local sourcing aims to take advantage of materials produced right here in the Capital Region.
Jason Nemec, a software designer with a background in illustration and fine arts, bought the old Charlton firehouse in early 2021, and has been working on transforming the space into a wood turning workshop, art gallery, and instructional space ever since. Nemec plans to use the workshop to produce functional artistic everyday objects which he will sell in the gallery.
Nemec said he wants to source material locally for his pieces, because “we used to be a very self-sufficient community in Charlton,” and “there are so many resources in this area; the wood we have in the Northeast is the best wood in the world.”
The firehouse at 786 Charlton Road was built in 1922 and renovated in the 1950s. Though it served as the town’s fire station for over 50 years, firefighters said the building was unsuitable for a modern firehouse because of the cramped space between engines, lack of equipment storage areas, and the danger of firefighters being run over by the engines. The Charlton Fire Department moved to a new station about a half mile east, at 330 Charlton Road, in 2019.
A Charlton native, Nemec was drawn to the history and character of the old firehouse when it went on the market. The town too was enthusiastic about Nemec buying the space and preserving its history: “the town is very interested and protective of their history, and people have a lot of memories and connections to the space,” he said.
The town supports the plan for the property, according to Joe Grasso, Charlton Town Supervisor. “It’s an iconic building with a long history in the town, and we’re confident that Jason will make sure it continues to fit into the history of the historic hamlet.”
Following six months of conversations with the Charlton town board about town approvals, Nemec closed on the property in February and began working there full-time in May. An avid hobby woodworker and artist, Nemec was in the market for a new workspace after 12 years of whittling away in his cramped garage workshop.
Nemec has already gotten to work incorporating elements of the historic firehouse into his new workshop and gallery.
“It’s amazing the number of people that have stopped in just to wish me well and bring me knick knacks,” he said. “The old fire chief specifically stopped by to tell me that the siren is still active.”
Nemec installed soundproof insulation in his workshop space after the town expressed “a bit of concern about noise [from the machines], being in such a quiet area of the town,” he said. He has also been working with the Town Board to meet community guidelines for external lights and the parking lot.
Nemec plans to have the workshop area completed by the end of the month. After that, he hopes to use his finished workshop to make woodturning and furniture pieces for his gallery, which he will open to the public in November or December 2021. Then he will turn his attention to finishing the instructional studio, which he aims to have ready by the middle of next year.
He anticipates that the classroom space will be popular with the community – “there are a lot of people in town with an appreciation for woodworking, but they haven’t had a chance to get their hands on tools,” he said.
While Nemec has been preparing his workshop and gallery, he has continued to work on woodturning projects that customers have commissioned. Daniel Jennings of Malta commissioned an uplift desk, for which Nemec sourced the material from a manufacturer in Burnt Hills, who he said has a “giant farm full of wood slabs.”
Jennings said Nemec “is passionate about the quality of his work. He sourced an amazing walnut slab, and worked with me in-person to go through every detail.”
“I am excited to see the finished product and look forward to visiting his space,” said Stephanie Ferradino of Saratoga Springs, who commissioned four wooden chairs from Nemec. “The chairs are going to be artful and functional. Working with [Nemec] has been an interesting and fun process,” she added.
Nemec’s tentative name for the new workshop and gallery is “Charlton Edition” because he plans to make many ‘editions’ of pieces in bulk: “everyday home goods that you would normally go to Target for, but you can actually get a local version of that.”
He said his goal is to design a functional household item, such as a bowl or vase, and make about 50 of that item using a woodturning machine. Over time he hopes to develop an inventory and website for his work, while keeping it at what he said is a “reasonable” price point.
Nemec’s ultimate objective is to produce “art that anybody can have, and that people can afford.” He said he wants to be the artist “bringing some life into your home.”