Michelle Frederick: Blending Art and Woodworking to Create Fine Furniture, Sculpture and More

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Michelle Frederick works on her first project at The Krenov School – a wall shelf/mirror combo. (Photo: Gilad Kagen)

Michelle Frederick works on her first project at The Krenov School – a wall shelf/mirror combo. (Photo: Gilad Kagen)

Art has always been a part of Philadelphia native Michelle Frederick’s life, but a woodworking class she took during her sophomore year in college forever changed her ultimate career path that finally led to The Krenov School in Fort Bragg, California.

“I fell in love with the material (wood),” Michelle explained. Two of her four brothers also followed artistic pursuits – one a tattoo artist and the other a student of glassblowing, photography and painting – but she is the only sibling interested in working with wood.

Serious woodworking would have to wait, however, until Michelle earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fine and Studio Arts, with a focus on sculpture and photography, from New York University and spent five years studying and working in Spain

Life and Art Spanish Style

After a high school trip to Barcelona, Spain, Michelle was determined to live there someday. “I knew the easiest way to get a visa was to become a student, and I wanted to continue studying art anyway, so I found a program (Metafora Talleres de Arte) and applied,” Michelle explained. “I moved there at 27 and stayed for 5 years. I learned so much from that experience.”

Michelle completed a nine-month program that enabled her to experiment in a different way than she could in her undergraduate degree art work – more like an independent study. “I was exposed to a lot of contemporary art through school lectures,” Michelle said. “I sold a sculpture to a film director who then commissioned more pieces, which led to a series of camera sculptures.”

Life in Barcelona also included working at the Villa del Arte Galleries, an international art gallery. “I was able to travel and see art in various countries, which was very inspirational,” Michelle said. Her job included setting up exhibitions and travelling and working at fairs throughout the world, as well as liaison with clients and artists and handling the gallery’s social media.

Time to Work Wood

 “I decided when I was in Spain that I really wanted to focus on woodworking, so when I went back to Philadelphia I enrolled in a few classes at The Philadelphia Furniture Workshop,” Michelle said.

She also rented space later on at NextFab, which is a member-based community shop, to work on her own woodworking and sculpture pieces.

Next Stop – The Krenov School

In 2018, Michelle enrolled in The Krenov School.

“My drive to pursue woodworking was based on my desire to better execute my artwork,” Michelle shared. “I was drawn to working with wood as a medium and wanted to understand the material and learn techniques so that I could use them in my work. I've always been interested in furniture but wanted to approach it from a more conceptual, artistic angle. The Krenov School allowed me to deep dive into fine woodworking and understand the craft, but I also saw it as an art school in many ways, which I loved.’”  

“Plant Vanity” (Photos: Todd Sorenson)

Drawer joinery.

“Plant Vanity,” Michelle’s first project as a Krenov student, is an 18" x 33" x 7" mirror surrounded by a Frame attached to a Shelf with Drawers built from Claro Walnut and Sycamore.

“It explores the juxtaposition of delicate plants against the hardness of wood; the plants’ natural, undulating forms contrasting the clean, intentional lines of the design,” Michelle said. “The mirror simultaneously emphasizes the plant cuttings and reflects light onto them.”

During this process, Michelle said it became apparent that, without knowing it, she had been inspired by a dresser from her grandmother’s home. It displayed antique perfume bottles that sat on top of a mirror that highlighted their presence, making the mirror equally as important as the objects.

“Display Cabinet”. (Photo: Todd Sorenson)

Michelle’s second Krenov project was a 13" x 28" x 10" display cabinet built from Louro Preto, a rare wood, Ebony and glass.

“I designed and built a cabinet that is meant to hold items on one side and displays artwork, memorabilia, or plants on the other side,” Michelle said. “The glass top is removable. It was an opportunity to work with veneers, glass, and new types of joinery. I chose Louro Preto because of its striking color and grain pattern. I wanted to use dark, hardwood that contrasted against the glass, which highlights what is displayed inside.”  

Beyond The Krenov Shop

Woodworking. A 2019 Krenov graduate, Michelle currently has a bench at the Cypress Street Barn in Fort Bragg where the artist/fine woodworker/designer creates furniture and art pieces.

“Since graduating, I’m grateful to have had several commissions, including a piece based off my first project at The Krenov School, a king-size bed and a writing desk,” Michelle said. “I’m currently at the Barn full-time working on another desk commission and my own artistic projects. I’m also going to be participating in two furniture exhibitions this summer, which I will prepare for over the next few months.”

“The bed was an exciting opportunity, not only because of the scale but the engineering needed to make sure it was sturdy, well-constructed, and knockdown,” Michelle explained. “I used a lighter wood, Ash, which visually lightens the piece and is also strong. The clients requested an all-natural finish, so I experimented with a soap finish that came out beautifully on the Ash.”  

“King Size Bed.” (Photos: Michelle Frederick)

Headboard Detail

“Writing Desk" built from solid Beech and Spalted Beech Veneers.

Inset shows drawer joinery. (Photos by Michelle Frederick)

Radio Show. Last July, Michelle and co-host Phoenix Trent started Putting Down Roots, a show on KZYX Radio. “The aim of the show is to highlight creative individuals bringing something unique to Mendocino County through the arts, education and beyond,” Michelle explained.  

Michelle at her Cypress Street Barn bench. (Photo: Miles Gracey)

“Woman with Agave” is a composition of found images displayed in a handmade Walnut frame that Michelle created for The Krenov Foundation Raffle. (Photo: Michelle Frederick)

The Krenov Foundation Board. Michelle is still connected to The Krenov School through her membership on The Krenov Foundation Board.

“I very much enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been a great opportunity to connect with other woodworkers/alumni in the community and also to learn more about James Krenov himself and his work. I helped organize the ‘Krenov 100’ digital exhibition for Krenov’s 100th Birthday and was able to spend a day among original Krenov cabinets, listening to people record testimonials, including his daughter Tina,” Michelle shared. 

“I was also a part of the Krenov Raffle, which raised money for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Scholarships to the summer program that are now being awarded by the Foundation. I’m grateful to be a small part of this necessary change, which makes the field of woodworking more diverse and inclusive.”

Follow Michelle on Instagram.

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  • JS
    Thank you for sharing Michelle's story. She's a special person with so much talent. And she makes the effort to share her love of the arts with her community and that makes each place she lives better off because she's there. Keep up the good work, Michelle.

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