Joe Wright of Bearwood Workshop handcrafts his beautiful wooden homewares and sculpture – all made from sustainable and recycled New Zealand native timber – from a little tractor shed in Glendhu Bay overlooking Lake Wanaka. After years of working as a designer in many different disciplines, running his own consultancy and clocking up the air miles with large corporations as clients, he decided to shed it all and go back to his roots. His days are now spent following his passion: designing and making simple, beautiful, sustainable items that will stand the test of time.
How did you get into your craft?
My father was a very inspirational (and partly infuriating) figure for me growing up. As a kid, I used to watch him making and creating all manner of weird and wonderful things in his shed. It was always amazed me to see what he would create next. I think that inspired me to follow my career in design and ultimately lead me back to the grassroots life of a designer maker.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have a BA Hons degree in furniture and product design. Although every day is a learning process, there always seems to be a new problem that needs solving. I guess that’s one of the things that I love about being in the workshop.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love wood! But mainly recycled and reclaimed wood. That’s because I also love trees and I don’t like to see them being chopped down! I am also rather fond of the old school chisel. In fact, I think I might have a chisel problem as the last count had 180 hanging from the wall around the workshop!
What inspires you?
Inspiration often comes at unusual times, I do a lot of adventuring in the mountains and rivers around Wanaka. I have had ideas for creations on mountain summits, while mountain biking through the forest and paddling rapids in my pack raft. But always seem to draw inspiration from the endless beauty of the landscape here!
“My father was a very inspirational figure… I think that inspired me to follow my career in design and ultimately lead me back to the grassroots life of a designer maker.”
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I think my main philosophy is to try and create items that stand the test of time whilst having as small an impact as possible. We seem to have moved into a disposable world where items aren’t expected to have a long life span and usually end up as landfill. I really want to step away from that mentality. I love giving wood a new life after many years of service as a church beam and making an item that will be treasured for another lifetime.
Describe your creative process:
It is usually fuelled by too much tea and a solid dose of creative chaos. Starts with a drawing, ends with an object and has many late nights creating piles of sawdust in the middle.
Describe your workspace:
My workspace is a converted rusty old tractor shed nestled in amongst the southern Alps overlooking Lake Wanaka. It’s super cold in winter, too hot in summer and leaks when it rains but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love being out on a working farm surrounded by all of the natural beauty that this rural slice of mountainous paradise has to offer.
What are you currently listening to?
Audiobooks make my world go round, nothing better than learning whilst carving.
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Dali Lama or Rick Astley can’t decide which?
A favourite quote:
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
“We seem to have moved into a disposable world where items aren’t expected to have a long life span and usually end up as landfill. I really want to step away from that mentality.”
Tell us about your pets:
Louie the cat is fat and an infamous prized goldfish hunter… much to the dismay of my neighbours.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Laser etching eyes and CNC fingers!
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
I think buying things that are made locally is more important now than ever before, we need to support the people in the community around us and buck the trend of cheap mass production on the other side of the world. Items that are handmade have depth, character and tell a story that large scale production can’t replicate.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
The last handmade item I received was a gift of a hand knitted merino wool hat for my cat. I think it is pretty cool but Louie seems to have reservations about wearing it out and about!
What’s in store for the rest of 2019?
This year has been an exciting one so far, we have just released a new range of regionally inspired wall hangings that complement the existing bearwood catalogue. I am currently talking to local stores in the Wanaka / Queenstown area and no doubt will continue to dream up far too many ideas for new products than I am able to make!
Joe has an awesome offer for Felt readers, with a generous 20% discount on everything in his Felt shop until the end of July! Just choose your favourite beautiful Bearwood Workshop sculptures and homewares, add them to your basket, and enter the code TRACTORSHED2019 in the voucher code field during checkout to receive your discount. Thanks very much Joe!