Elia Bizzarri’s built a workshop year ago on his 4-acre property at 2815 Moorefields Road in Hillsborough. With its big windows, wood floors and wood paneling, it is a head turner.
“I was told that one’s shop should be the nicest place on the property or you won’t want to go there,” said Bizzarri, who spends at least 40 hours a week there making American Windsor chairs with hand tools. “A chair takes around 35 hours to create,” he said. He splits chair parts from logs, which gives him control over the entire process. “This means the chairs lend themselves to working the way I want them to.”
Visitors who set out to explore the studios on the Orange County Artists Guild 20th Annual Open Studio Tour Nov. 1, 2, 8, and 9 ( ocagnc.com) will get to sate all their senses. A stop at Bizzarri’s studio will include the chance to view him turning chair legs on his lathe, see his band saw built in 1919, and run hands over his stunning chairs. “A Windsor has a solid, wood seat and all the parts end in the seat,” he explained. “Without the seat, all you have is a pile of parts on the floor, my mentor Curtis Buchanan says.”
“I grew up watching Mr. Rogers on PBS, then Roy Underhill came on right after him,” Bizzarri said. Watching Underhill gave Bizzarri a great urge to try his hand at it too. “My mother persuaded John Alexander, who had an ad for a school in a woodworking magazine, that he wanted me to come work for him for a month,” said Bizzarri, who went on to apprentice with Curtis Buchanan in Jonesborough, Tenn. “I thought making chairs was too complicated for me so I would make a spoon, or a baby rattle, or a side table.”
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Eventually, he acquired and polished the skills to make a Windsor chair. Bizzarri now teaches woodworking around the country and at Underhill’s “The Woodright’s School,” in Pittsboro where no one is permitted to use power tools.
“I have always liked working with hand tools,” he said. “Chairs lend themselves to that. You can build a table with power tools and end up with the same table as you would if you built it with hand tools, but you cannot build a chair with hand tools and create the same chair with power tools.”
Works by all 75 participating tour artists are on display at FRANK Gallery, 109 E. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill and at Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, 121 N. Churton St. in Hillsborough through Nov. 9. An opening reception at FRANK will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, and at Hillsborough Gallery of Arts from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Halloween night.
Photographer Peter Filene, No. 16 on the tour, said there were 11,200 visits to the 65 studios on last year’s tour, with most people taking in several studios.
“That is a lot of people looking at art, talking about art, getting educated about art, and in many cases walking away with art,” he said. The tour studios are open from 10 a.m.to 5 p.m. Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The tour is a marvelous way to introduce art to children since it is so much fun to see the artists at work, and cookies are almost always involved.
Clay artist Cathy Kiffney will have a table set up with clay and clay tools outside her studio, weather permitting, for visitors to get a sense of what she does to create her functional and artistic clay works. Kiffney has been involved with the tour since it began 20 years ago.
“I was very nervous when I first started. We artists usually work alone,” Kiffney said. “I work in a very peaceful, quiet setting, and to have a large group of people seeing my work at once was challenging but I have gotten over my shyness. Not that it goes away completely.”
Kiffney shows her work in retail settings but it represents just a small portion of what she invents. “I get to show new work that has never been seen before, and this is a great opportunity to get feedback from people as they view it,” she said. “I get to see if through their eyes and that is always great information for the future. It really helps me see if I am on the right track.”
Elephants are often on Kiffney’s mind but it was not until recently that they have appeared in her work.
“I was in my studio thinking about elephants, as conservation is very important to me, and I thought that an elephant would be perfect on a new shape I have, which is a long oval,” she said.
Other of her new pieces grew out of gift a friend recently gave her – a bunch of lace and doilies. “It is very seductive stuff. I got to play around with pressing the lace textures into clay and using glazes and oxides to pick up the textures,” said Kiffney, who has been using this effect as a background drop for her clay animal portraits
“This new discovery part of being an artist keeps me going. It keeps things interesting.”