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2014 Master of the Southwest Gerry Lamanski - Master Craftsman

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: March, 2014, Page 132
Gerry Lamanski is pictured here on one of his latest creations, a post-and-beam ponderosa pine bench with a finish of red enamel stippled over a walnut lacquer stain.

Master Craftsman Gerry Lamanski Pays Homage to Nature With His Distinctive Western-Flavored Furniture

Arizona craftsman Gerry Lamanski has been involved in various aspects of woodworking for nearly 30 years, yet the Master of the Southwest has lost neither his boyish enthusiasm for his work nor his appreciation for the bounty of nature that allows him to ply his craft: wood.

“Some ancient peoples worshipped trees as symbols of eternal life,” he comments. “In a way, I still believe that.” Trees, in addition to having beauty, are “one of the first and most diverse sustainable raw materials,” he explains. Of his own relationship with that resource, he notes: “After the tree is harvested, I am able to give it a second life for others to admire.”

Lamanski creates handcrafted furniture with a distinctly Western/Southwestern flavor from woods that are mostly indigenous to the Southwest, such as ponderosa pine, mesquite, cottonwood and aspen. Defined by naturalistic contours are beds of various designs; dining and conference tables; chairs, chests and more. He has made his furniture for such commercial venues as hotels and restaurants, and for the homes of celebrities (whose privacy he respects) and other private clients.

Scottsdale resident Jim Allen, who collects Western memorabilia and furniture, considers Lamanski an artisan of the finest quality. Pieces handcrafted for him include a rustic bed and a dresser, each adorned with copper details of the artisan’s making. “You can pass them down through generations,” says Allen of the furniture. He also likes that Lamanski carves his name on the backs of his pieces.

Working with wood has been the craftsman’s love since he was a little boy growing up on a farm in Michigan. “The first project I ever finished on my own was a doghouse, complete with wood shingles, when I was seven,” he recalls. “For my eighth birthday, I wanted and got my first circular saw and drill.” His interest was further fueled when a high school teacher taught him new skills that allowed him to make such “dream pieces of furniture” as an award-winning chest Lamanski crafted in the 18th-century style of American cabinetmaker John Goddard.

As happens in life, Lamanski detoured from his woodworking, and studied physics with an industrial engineering minor at Central Michigan University. Afterward, he worked for a Florida hotel-furniture factory, designing and fabricating woodworking machinery, and even built illusion props for a magician. His passion for woodworking was rekindled during an apprenticeship with a Florida craftsman, with whom he worked on fabricating custom interiors for tour buses, including Willie Nelson’s, he says. Yearning to start making custom furniture, in 1985 he joined an old high school friend in Arizona, who had a furniture and cabinetry business. Lamanski later went out on his own to concentrate on custom furniture.

Looking back on his career, he recalls the time a high school classmate commissioned him to make her a black walnut hope chest. “She paid me two-hundred dollars, which seemed like a fortune. I loved woodworking so much, accepting money to do it felt like robbery. Part of me still feels that way. Even after all these years, it’s still amazing to get paid to do something so fun.”

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: The Rio Bravo Credenza, made of Flagstaff ponderosa pine, features a center cupboard and zig-zag apron. It also boasts a Sunset Glow finish of lacquer and aniline dyes, and hand-distressed Arizona copper hardware. “Because every piece of wood is different, I’ve come to make all of my hardware and drawer pulls to work with each,” notes Gerry Lamanski. • The Sonoran Bedroom Suite, featuring mesquite panels, is constructed with mortise-and-tenon joinery. The dresser and nightstands are accented with hand-forged iron drawer pulls made to resemble arrows. • The design of this Dancing Arrow Bedroom Suite was inspired by lightning seen during a heavy thunderstorm. The result: a bed and nightstands embellished with copper arrow insets. • Drawing inspiration from the Rio Bravo River, the ponderosa pine Rio Bravo Seven-Drawer Dresser and Mirror depict what Lamanski describes as “a copper-colored river flowing beneath the stars."

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