Artist Daryl Nickel's lifelong passion for woodworking.
Photos: Matt Kocourek
May/June 2012 KCH&G (Kansas City Home & Garden)
If furniture-making isn’t in Daryl Nickel’s blood, it’s in
his heart. Working with his hands since he was a boy, he earned a degree in
industrial arts (and philosophy) and uses the art form for expression and, since
1982, to make a living.
What is your inspiration?
It’s mostly the
wood itself and the infinite possibilities that such a natural form presents.
Along with that is the input and energy that comes from clients. Often, the
piece begins to take on its own energy as I work, guiding me toward a satisfying
What makes you good at what you do?
The engineering of a
well-made piece of furniture is worked out through experience and becomes
instinct. I bring great attention to detail to all my pieces. I look for
materials that are of high quality, have some interest in terms of grain pattern
and somehow express the ideas that I bring to that particular piece.
How do you connect with your work?
The connection between materials and the
finished piece can happen early in the process or midway through, when something
about the wood gives me a new idea. You have to be willing to adjust and allow
the intrinsic “life” of the wood to come through. It is, after all, “alive” in
the sense that it continues to move and expand and contract even after it is
made into furniture.
Describe your work, both in restoration and
My restorations have ranged from simple repair and refinishing to
full-scale reproductions based on shadows of jointery left on original pieces.
Custom pieces have ranged from a small box to contain the remains of a loved one
to furnishing an entire house with Arts and Crafts-style pieces.
custom work necessary or attractive to clients?
Ready-made pieces often
don’t have the details or dimensions that a client needs. Having a piece
custom-made means that all possibilities can be considered, whether it’s
matching a style or filling out a set. The work is then associated with a maker,
becoming an object of art that will be beautiful and useful for generations.
What is your process for custom pieces?
Some clients have very
specific ideas, while others have only general thoughts. I do the design work as
needed, which can include several meetings, and we talk about pricing and terms.
If I am commissioned to do a piece of my own design, the process can vary. With
a deposit, I schedule the work. Delivery time depends on other work that is
scheduled, and I will always work with a client to meet any specific schedules
they might have. Each piece is priced individually. I don't carry an inventory,
but do have a number of pieces in my home to show clients as examples of my
Getting philosophical, what does woodworking mean to you?
think I draw energy and skill from somewhere deep in my being. Woodworking can
be done on many levels, and to me it is a form of expression, a way to take
ideas, perceptions and energy and use them as a motivating force to create
furniture and wood art. Woodworking means taking a raw material and drawing the
beauty and function out of it. It is a very satisfying process for me that is
part discovery, part inspiration and just plain hard work. The end product often
surprises me, and when I can't quite hide a smile as I stand back and look at
the finished piece, I know I've been successful.
What's your favorite
piece and why?
Of the several hundred pieces I've done, one in particular
stands out. A client asked me to make a piece to be used as a focus for a
meditation/spiritual practice and included the detail that it was to be centered
around a white lotus flower. I was given design freedom and found materials in
cherry and eucalyptus that seemed just right. As I worked, the piece began to
take on an almost tangible energy and guided me. That may sound odd, but it
truly can happen if you are in tune with the piece. I learned about the sacred
elements of what I do, appreciating the gift the wood is giving me, and through
it, the gift I can give my clients