An interview with Carey Jernigan - Woodworker and artist

“I still feel close to that thrilling moment when you suddenly see the world as full of things that somebody made.”

Carey talking about wood grain and movement in the step stool class.

Carey talking about wood grain and movement in the step stool class.

Carey Jernigan, one of the founders of the Junction Workshop, came to woodworking from an unexpected place: environmental sciences. While pursuing an academic career in ecology in Halifax she took some time away to re-evaluate and found herself turning towards art. She discovered that art was a way to look at life in a different way and started making things, sometimes with wood.

Something about the contrasting demands of woodworking, how it requires both strength and care, appealed to Carey. When she moved to Toronto she found herself peering into the wood shops in the west end and eventually started going into the shops and inquiring if anyone would hire someone without experience. It was then that she met Heidi who took a risk and took her on as an apprentice. That was five years ago and now Carey is a talented woodworker and furniture maker in her own right.

She is also an artist and incorporates woodworking into her art practice. One of her favourite pieces is a wooden gear pattern that was based on historic wooden patterns that are used in foundries (a factory or workshop that produces metal castings for industrial machinery) as moulds for sand casting. These wooden patterns are used to make an impression in wet sand, then they are removed and hot iron (or another metal) is poured into the impression to make a machine part. *light bulb moment - that pebbly texture on some metal things = sand!*

I spoke to Carey about what she loves about woodworking, her passion for sharing her craft with others, and her favourite piece.

Do you think your initial interest in environmental sciences informs your woodworking?

I definitely think so. It made me relate to objects as things that ideally should be lasting. Wooden furniture is one of those things. If made well it can really serve a purpose for a long time. In environment sciences, you see this kind of disposable culture and get quite concerned about fossil fuels and plastics, for me the history of woodworking and the longevity of wooden things were a kind of comfort.

What do you like most about woodworking?

Compared to other things I’ve done, it’s been the one that in the moment has been the most selfishly pleasurable. I like the mix of the physical challenge of it, a sweaty work day is good for the soul, and the mental challenge, things have to fit just right, so there’s a lot of thinking and planning behind each piece.

What’s interesting about working on Heidi’s furniture designs is that we spend a lot of time working on things that are buried within and invisible. There’s a lot in the work that you don’t see. The idea behind all of those steps is that they carry through into the final object in ways that the client might not see, but might “feel”: a sort of visceral sense of the object being carefully made.  Some of it is also structural. If you do things a certain way it’s just going to last.

What inspired you to start Junction Workshop? How does it feel to go from learning woodworking from Heidi to teaching it?

 As someone who learned woodworking fairly recently, I still feel close to that thrilling moment when you suddenly see the world as full of things that somebody made. When I started Junction Workshop the joy and empowerment of suddenly being able to make the things that I saw around me or understand how they were made was still fresh. Teaching has really been a way of sharing that joy with others. It is so much fun for me to see other people discover the pleasures of woodworking for the first time.

Junction Workshop has also been a way for me to share this world that I had gotten into with friends and a broader community. There’s also a reverse sharing that happens in these classes too, especially in the longer courses, you have time to chat while you’re working and suddenly you’re talking to a software developer, or an academic, or a lawyer. It’s interesting for us to get a peek at other people’s lives too.

What’s your favourite piece that you’ve made?

My favourite piece with Heidi was the Hathaway dresser, which she probably got me attached to by letting me name it. It’s a 12 drawer dresser that I made near the end of my time with Heidi. It looks simple but it had so many pieces that had to go together just right – there was a lot of intricate joinery on the inside and outside. I made the dresser near the end of the five years that we were working together, so it was really a culmination of everything that I had learned.