The Rapidian

Thomas Verstraete: An ArtPrize Craftsman Profile

Accumulated Wood Cabinet

Accumulated Wood Cabinet /Thomas Verstraete

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ArtPrize 2010

Be sure and visit the ArtPrize website and register to vote. Vote Thomas Verstraete's cabinet up with 35651!

Visit Thomas' website at

See the picture frames that Thomas created for his Senior Show at



The Acquired Wood Bench That Placed in the Top 25 During ArtPrize 2009

The Acquired Wood Bench That Placed in the Top 25 During ArtPrize 2009 /Thomas Verstraete

Functional Chair That Thomas Created for his Junior Review at GVSU

Functional Chair That Thomas Created for his Junior Review at GVSU /Thomas Verstraete


               “I don’t consider myself an artist,” said ArtPrize participant Thomas Verstraete, “I’m a craftsman.” To Verstraete, there is a distinction, between an art and a craft. “Many people consider crafts to be a lower art form,” he said, “but I feel that functionality and quality workmanship are attributes that should be looked at, promoted, and celebrated.” The pieces that he creates are not only artistic, but functional.
                After placing in the top 25 during ArtPrize 2009 for his Acquired Wood Bench, which was located outside at The BOB, Verstraete created what he calls an Accumulated Wood Cabinet in a similar style for this year’s ArtPrize. “Last year, I went to about fifteen local woodworking and furniture shops and asked for donations of scrap wood to make the bench,” he said. “This year I had enough scraps to cover the cabinet.” (Hence the differing titles.) The only part of the cabinet that he had to purchase was the maple for the basic structure of the piece.
                “I started by building a pretty much functional cabinet out of maple, and finished it with the wood pieces,” Verstraete said. “As time went on I just glued them to it, piece by piece. I finished the two posts that weren’t full with the chunks of wood, and then the top shelf.”
                He does not know how many species of wood the cabinet contains, or how many pieces there are glued to it. “About halfway through, I had the idea to have a raffle and see if someone could guess how many pieces there were for a prize…but at that point I just didn’t want to go back and count them all,” he said. “Maybe next year.”
                The Accumulated Wood Cabinet will be inside The BOB this year. Verstraete wanted to get an indoor venue because the bench he entered last year was damaged by rain. He contacted Barb Hanley, Executive Assistant at The BOB, who he worked with last year. “I told her that I liked working with them last year, they were really accommodating, and she invited me to come in so that I could make my piece more space-oriented this time.” Verstraete drew up four proposals for The BOB, including a series of five tables that would progress from full wood to accumulated, a hostess stand, a variation on the bench that he crafted last year, and the cabinet that is there now. They chose the cabinet, and Verstraete says that there might be a possibility that the piece will end up staying there.
                His ArtPrize 2009 Top 25 bench was, as he put it, “a culmination of almost an entire life in art.” The basic art skills that Verstraete learned from his mother and in elementary school were just the beginning for him. He focused on 3-D graphics in junior high, but it was high school when he began to develop an interest in woodworking and furniture. An aspiring architect by this time, he saw a photo of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and was inspired. Verstraete was working at an architecture firm after high school when he decided to make the move to art.
                At Muskegon Community College, Verstraete studied the basics and was accepted into Grand Valley State University’s art program after one year. He was also accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design; a private university located in Savannah, Georgia, but decided not to attend because they did not offer a sculpture major. “I knew I didn’t want to do painting,” he said. "I hate painting!" Grand Valley was also simply nearby and more affordable, and offered him the option to study what he wanted.
                After a year, Verstraete passed a review to begin taking his sculpture classes. Despite conflicts with his teacher, who simply had a different mindset than Verstraete when it came to art, he arrived at the end of his junior year. Deciding to make a series of works based on people he knew for his junior review, he chose one friend in particular who he called “scatterbrained and forgetful”. He crafted a memory box made of a large number of different pieces of wood put together and containing compartments that were numerous but hard to find. Creating this piece inspired him to change his mind about his junior review – he decided to make a series of furniture based on this box’s design instead.
                Unfortunately, his teachers did not feel that he allowed enough “ideas” into his review, and so he had to start all over. He created more furniture, consisting of many random pieces of wood (a very rough version of what he does now), that were also functional. “I made this chair, that didn’t look like you could sit on it, but you could. It was all real furniture,” he said.
                His senior year, he crafted a number of different types of furniture, wall hangings and other household items, working with his woodworking professor and his sculpture professor. The collection included a set of picture frames that he says represent the influence of his parents. “My mother is a creative out there kind of person and my dad is a very reserved kind of person,” he said. “[The picture frames] are a representation of their dichotomy.
                For his final show, instead of an “artist statement” about his work, he chose to call it his “craftsman statement”.
                Verstraete saw the announcement for ArtPrize 2009 and knew that he had to sign up. “For one thing,” he said, “it gave me a deadline, a goal to meet. That was something that I needed.” He was also eager to get his work out into the world, and ArtPrize offered him the exposure that he wanted. “I wanted to get my work out there and get some feedback, to find out if what I did was really worthwhile,” he said. While downtown one day, he overheard a passerby say that his bench looked “like Frank Lloyd Wright on steroids”. He thought that was great, and says that he got mostly positive feedback during the event.
                This year, the cabinet is something that he hopes will get people more interested in his work. “It’s the goal of anybody who graduates with a degree in art…to make it their career,” he said. “I don’t expect to get as many votes this year, but I’m getting a website together, business cards, and a body of work. Hopefully people will become interested.”
                You can visit the Accumulated Wood Cabinet in The BOB, just inside the entrance on Monroe. Verstraete has a broad array of items that he can craft – from wall hangings and coat racks to candle sticks and coffee tables. Be sure and visit his cabinet and his website and get to know his art. Vote 35651.

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