Furniture Maker Ariele Alasko Crafts Art Out Of Old Brownstones

(by Guerin Blask)

This interview is part of our FRESHMakers series, a collaboration with Arizona-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Guerin Blask. For this project, Blask took portraits of New Yorkers he finds inspiring: ”I wanted to capture the faces behind the work I so admire. Each of these entrepreneurs has had a major impact on my daily life over the past decade, and I feel honored to have been given the opportunity to photograph each of them in his or her element.” Ariele Alasko is one of them. 

Furniture wizard Ariele Alasko grew up in the trees of coastal California. No, actually in them. “My bedroom was a treehouse for most of my life, built by my dad in our big beautiful backyard full of oak trees,” Alasko told Brooklyn Magazine. And that proximity to trees at a young age explains why Alasko has such a knack for molding and crafting wood into wall panels and furniture that as much objets d’art as they are functional furnishings.

Alask moved to Brooklyn to go to school at Pratt, where she studied sculpture, dabbling in woodworking and welding on the side. After she graduated in 2009, Alasko began building furniture for her own apartment, and what started as a hobby quickly became a full-time job.

“I realized I didn’t want to pursue a career in the ‘art world,’ and after a few random jobs working for other artists, I quit and decided I’d only be happy branching out on my own,” Alasko said. “My dad decided to open a restaurant in California, so I spent seven months building and designing the entire space from scratch. It was there that I really taught myself how to build tables, frame and sheetrock walls to code, build booths, construct a bar, etc. When I got back to New York, I just kept going from there. Pretty much everything I know in the woodworking field is something I taught myself, from butterfly joints to spoon carving.”

That’s what particularly striking about Alasko’s work: The scale that she operates means that each piece, from a handcrafted wooden chain to a full wall panel to a dining room table have incredible attention to detail, each slat forming a geometric pattern.

(courtesy Ariele Alasko)
“When I build my patterned work I develop the patterns from the pieces I made previously, so each one is a spin-off of the one before it,” Alasko explained. “The wood I use for this work is called plaster lath, thin strips of wood that is gutted from the walls of brownstones here in Brooklyn. The colors in my work are all natural patina from age, and I make sure to never use any stains. The coloration of the wood itself is inspiration for a lot of my pieces.”
But recently, Alasko has been working on smaller, more intricate woodworking projects. “Recently I’ve been carving mostly spoons, which is such an enjoyable, relaxing, and addictive process,” she said. “I’m most proud of a chain I carved from a single chunk of Cypress wood recently. It has three large links, measuring about two feet in total, and I carved away at the wood until the links separated from each other but are still attached. The whole thing moves, and it can hang on the wall or sit coiled up on a table. Chain carving is a bit of show-offy thing in the woodworking world, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of something so time consuming and technical. And it was really fun.”
To those who might be interested in the trade, Alasko recommends reading up and committing to a process of trial and error. “It’s amazing what practice, common sense, and sharp tools can do when learning a new craft,” she said. “My second piece of advice is to never replicate the work that you’re inspired by, but to instead find your own voice and style. It’s hugely important to remember the difference between inspiration and imitation, especially in a world filled to the brim with social media, where everyone’s work is so easily visible and accessible worldwide. Sounds simple and obvious, but clearly it’s not so simple nor so obvious!”

 

 

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