Subscriber login

What you need to know for 08/18/2017

Woodworkers show to feature functional, artistic creations

Woodworkers show to feature functional, artistic creations

Two hundred years from now, John Olenik expects his mahogany armoire will attract attention during a
Woodworkers show to feature functional, artistic creations
Woodworker John Olenik of Milton puts final touches on a mahogany armoire that he built and will show at the Northeastern Woodworkers Association's 23rd annual Woodworkers Showcase next weekend.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Two hundred years from now, John Olenik expects his mahogany armoire will attract attention during a futuristic auction.

The armoire — “A fancy name for a dresser,” Olenik says — is built to last. It stands five feet tall, weighs about 250 pounds and has been designed with four horizontal drawers on the bottom — light brown — and two double-paneled doors with nearly identical “book-match” wood grain patterns — reddish brown — on top. Ebony knobs and inlay are among the decorative touches.

People who are not planning to stick around until 2214 can see Olenik’s armoire next Saturday and Sunday. It will be on display at the Northeastern Woodworkers Association’s 23rd annual Woodworkers Showcase at the Saratoga Springs City Center. Show times are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days; admission is $10.

Hundreds of other pieces from local wood experts will be on exhibit — furniture, toys, carvings, turnings, musical instruments, sports equipment and miniatures. Other artists will show off marquetry skills — they’ve applied pieces of veneer to wood and created decorative pictures, patterns or designs.

Northeastern Woodworkers Association’s 23rd annual Woodworkers Showcase

WHERE: Saratoga Springs City Center, 522 Broadway

WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 30

HOW MUCH: $10. Under 12 free


None of the pieces at the showcase will be for sale. Olenik, Schenectady resident Bill MacTiernan and Maybrook’s Brad Conklin offered sneak previews of their art — and love of the craft.

Creating art

Olenik, 72, who lives in Milton, has been working with wood for most of his life. He started as a boy and, with help from his grandfather, first built a plywood boat complete with rubber band-driven paddle. Woodworkers advance, and Olenik has since created hundreds of pieces. Chairs, tables and a large entertainment center in his home are among furnishings he has produced in his basement wood shop.

The armoire is his latest project, and is nearly ready for his 5-year-old grandson. The piece includes an ebony black widow spider, “crawling” up the left side of the varnished wood.

“It’s a touch of whimsey,” Olenik said. “I guess it’s because I’m an artist. I like to include things people do not expect.”

Olenik knows he’s creating functional furniture. He also considers his work with band saws, planes and jointers artwork. “I worked as an insurance broker. I sold pieces of paper,” Olenik said. “For real satisfaction, I came down to my shop and created art.”

Olenik has invested about 500 hours in the armoire, which he started last October. Like other woodworkers, Olenik follows the work of earlier masters. His elaborate dresser is built in the style of architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene — Greene and Greene — who built homes and custom-made furniture for those homes from the late 1800s into the mid-1950s. Olenik also signs his pieces — but keeps the location of his mark a secret.

Working with mahogany and other woods keeps woodworking hands busy. Woodworking spirits, too.

“You have no idea how the time flies,” Olenik said, as classical music played in his basement shop. Some days, opera is the selection. “I happen to be a perfectionist ... I agonize over the smallest details.”

Details mean covering screws on drawer interiors with tiny ebony squares. “That was Greene and Greene, that’s how they built their pieces, it’s the way I build my pieces,” Olenik said.

Unlike some woodworkers, and artists who work in other mediums, Olenik wants people to both see and touch his work. They are welcome to run hands and fingers over the smooth finish. “It’s a piece of furniture,” he said. “Feel it.”

The showcase will include a vendors area and woodworking demonstrations. Olenik said there are always requests — for organization members and for young people who think they might like to start building tables and chairs.

“We encourage everybody in our organization, we beg everybody in our organization to bring something to display,” Olenik said. “We want people to see all levels of woodworking, from beginner to intermediate to advanced.”

Young people are also important. Olenik wants to ensure woodworkers are still in the game around 2214.

“We need young members,” he said. “We are an aging organization.”

‘Best of show’

Bill MacTiernan prefers Chippendale furniture.

“It was a style that was in vogue from 1765 to 1790,” MacTiernan said, adding the style is noteworthy for using “ball and claw” carvings at the feet of tables and chairs.

“It’s copied from the Chinese,” MacTiernan said. “It was a dragon foot over a pearl.”

Like Olenik, MacTiernan works in mahogany. One of his most elaborate pieces is a secretary, once familiar furniture in homes and businesses. “It’s a desk with a bookcase,” MacTiernan said. “This was the computer of its time. If you had a business, you could keep all your business documents sorted.”

MacTiernan, a retired attorney for the state Department of Transportation, constructed his 8-foot-tall secretary in the “Bombay style.” That means it bulges at the bottom. The piece also features swan neck molding on top, above a carved sea shell in the center. MacTiernan’s secretary, which took him two years to build, won the 2012 Woodworkers Showcase “Best of Show” award.

MacTiernan, who will display two mahogany end tables at next weekend’s show, loves the finished works that come with woodworking. But he also loves the process.

“It’s a meaningful way to spend your time,” he said. “You go through this process and in the end you have something that’s lasting and beautiful.”

He’s done over 100 pieces. Like Olenik, he encourages people to pick up the craft.

“Try something simple,” said, suggesting a stool or bench for the first go. “Every time you complete a piece you find something else to build that’s just slightly more complicated, that has slightly more challenge to it.”

Sculpted manta rays

Brad Conklin, who lives in Maybrook (near Middletown), turns to nature for inspiration. He’ll bring 39 sculpted manta rays, suspended from a wave-like structure, to the show.

“It’s 12 feet wide, seven feet tall and eight feet deep,” Conklin said. “I started it two years ago. My original idea was an eight-foot bowl with manta rays in it, just touching each other.”

Conklin, 58, a retired lineman and control operator for the Central Gas and Electric Co., scrapped the first idea. He likes the new design, which gives the manta more chance for motion.

Conklin likes to stay in motion himself. “I don’t sit well,” he said. “I enjoy tinkering.”

He runs a small business, Brad’s Artistic Heirlooms, and likes the idea that his pieces could be around for decades.

“I think that’s why the heirlooms intrigue me,” he said. “I built one granddaughter a cradle, I built the other a jewelry box. They’re both a little bit artistic, not like things you’d see in Walmart. When I make it, I make everything, the hinges, everything.”

Five different-sized rays are on Conklin’s piece, the largest three feet wide and 48 inches long. He’s wondering what kind of reactions the marine animals will receive next weekend.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I think people are going to stop and shake their heads.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at

View Comments
Hide Comments
0 premium 1 premium 2 premium 3 premium 4 premium 5 premium 6 premium 7 premium article articles remaining SUBSCRIBE TODAY

You have reached your monthly premium content limit.

Continue to enjoy Daily Gazette premium content by becoming a subscriber.
Already a subscriber? Log In