Gary Mead follows inner voice to artistic vision

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By Brian Sweeney
Among the stops at the Andes Margaretville Roxbury (AMR) Open Studios 2013 on July 27 and 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. will be the Gary Mead Gallery on Southside Road, Margaretville.
A lifelong area resident, Gary enjoyed art from a young age and still recalls being inspired toward creativity by his elementary school art instructor. However, it wasn’t until six years ago that Gary decided that he could no longer ignore the untapped reservoir of his artistic soul.

After forming his business, Fruitful Furnishings, in 1979, Gary built custom furniture and refinished furniture until he shifted his focus to milling dimensional lumber in 1987. He steadily grew the enterprise, employing as many as 12 workers during peak years, producing about 1 million board feet of lumber annually. The business remains quite steady, but Gary increasingly finds himself drawn to using the region’s vast and varied wood supply as the centerpiece for tables, chairs, cupboards and many other unique pieces that he started composing about seven years ago.
These days, Gary spends about half his time overseeing the operation of his mill and dedicates the rest of his long workdays to his artistic endeavors. In a few years, Gary hopes to devote himself to full-time his creative pieces.

“If it (the mill) can run without me, I’ll leave it,” he stated. “When you’re 58 years old, you can’t bank on a whole long more years and I have an idea book that just goes on and on.”

Good use of materials
Since establishing his mill, Gary has made a habit of utilizing as much of the timber as possible. Sawdust, mulch and kindling are all byproducts that get put to good use. Misshapen trees that don’t yield much useable lumber used to be a problem for Gary until he had an epiphany.
He recalls that a few years back, a logger friend, John Paul Rodrigue, offered some timber that included a large, unusually shaped tree. He had no real use for the wood, but still wanted to find something to do with the tree.

“I was driving up Dry Brook in 2006 to get the trees that had been offered and I had been tormented by what to do with a curved log. On the way up, I had a vision of what I can do.”

The result was a one-of-a-kind “xylophone table.” The gentle curves of the table flank a series planks inserted as a center section. The project was created whenever Gary could set aside some time to pursue his vision and took a year-and-a-half to complete.
When John Paul saw the finished piece, he was astonished.
“I can’t believe what you did with a piece of firewood!” he remarked.

It was a true labor of love — taking 256 hours to complete. In a practice that he continues with every creation, Gary painstakingly details each step of a project in a diary. His notes include the source of all wood used, daily progress and total time devoted. He also includes information pertaining to when he had the initial design idea and details of his original vision. The prices that Gary assigns to each work or art are a compilation of material costs and hours spent making the piece.

Lets ideas flow
As is the case with many artists, Gary doesn’t really have a firm plan when he begins his creations.
“I never know what I’m going to make,” he laughed.
Most of the time, he listens to a strong force within himself that is simply too difficult to ignore. For instance, Gary thought he was done working on an elegant piece he named the Three Nuts Table, featuring a combination of walnut, beechnut and butternut wood. His plans changed when the idea lodged in his head to create carvings of the appropriate type of nuts for each wood on both ends of the tabletop. Twenty-seven hours of intricate carving later, Gary had completed his vision — he thinks.
Gary has taught himself all the skills that he employs to create art that is both beautiful and functional. Sometimes, though, he just makes something for art’s sake. Such is the case with a towering chunk of white pine that Gary has dubbed “From the Forest.” The work-in-progress was calling for some “animal embellishment,” he recalled. While he had never carved animals before, Gary received some pointers from a veteran in the field and began filling the cavities in the pine piece a raccoon, a fisher and several chipmunks — with more on the way. A black bear will top the creation.

If you build it...
As Gary has learned, when he has a vision, he is powerless to resist the artistic path that beckons. That’s fine with him, as he continues to bring to craft a fascinating array of pieces draw praise for their beauty and unique characteristics.
It was two years ago that Gary decided to turn one of the buildings on his mill property and into a full-fledged gallery. A recently completed section of the building will soon become a retail space for premium lumber.
Looking around the gallery, Gary points out the many different types of wood that are used in his pieces. Even the floor of the gallery is an assortment wood blended into yet another interesting showcase.
“That’s the problem, most people don’t realize the wealth of wood we have right here in the Catskill Mountain. Everything in here is from within a 50-mile radius,” he pointed out. A mural adorning the wall of the gallery showcases 16 different species of trees found in the region.
Although many of his creations are sparked by a vivid imagination, Gary never forgets to be practical. One of his early jobs as a teenager was working for a moving company and he remembers how easy it was to damage heavy, awkward items. That’s why he designs all of his pieces so that they can be easily disassembled for moving purposes.
Gary has found his true calling and he’s anxious to see what’s around the next corner of his artistic exploration.
“It’s just been an incredible journey. I don’t call it work, I call it progress,” he commented.
Visitors on the ARM this weekend can get a close-up glimpse of his skills during a stop at the Gary Mead Gallery, which is located just off Southside Road, Margaretville.
Visitors on the ARM this weekend can get a close-up glimpse of his skills during a stop at the Gary Mead Gallery, which is located at 1289 Southside Road, Margaretville.
The Andes Roundtable will also meet at Gary’s gallery on Wednesday, July 24 at 7 p.m. The event is open to the public.
For more information, please call 845 586-3638 or visit: Gary-Mead.com