Off The Beaten Path
A father-and-son duo creates collectible furniture from their studio in the Sierra Nevada
Photography by Iker Basterretxea Garai and Tor Erickson
The beat poet Gary Snyder said, “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home,” and in 1970, Robert Erickson took those words to heart, leaving behind a career as a dentist to accompany Snyder into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to help him build his house. Robert fell in love with the twisting madrone and towering ponderosas and bought a neighboring tract of land called Wepa with some fellow artists. Today, he continues to live there with his family.
True stewards of the land, the Ericksons nurtured the forest back to life, and the forest, in turn, supplies wood for their furniture.
Robert studied with woodworkers Roger Somers and Ed Stiles near Mill Valley, California, but his own particular mastery and approach to the craft was largely self-taught through hard work and experimentation. His son, Tor, grew up working in the wood shop and, like his father, found his calling in woodworking. Now an adult, he is a master of the craft in his own right. Together they are the duo behind Erickson Woodworking, creating finely crafted furniture pieces that are destined to become heirlooms.
In this variation on a design, the seat and back are hand-carved from colorful Mariposite marble, found in the Sierra Nevada.
To the Ericksons, woodworking is an art of balance, and it shows. Their wood shop lives in harmony with nature, drawing energy from their solar array and using pine, madrone and oak harvested from the land, while each rocking chair and dining table evinces a delicate equilibrium of beauty and function. Their chairs, for example, “Need three things,” says Tor. “They have to be strong, they have to be light, and they have to be comfortable. Sometimes these are opposed, but you’ve got to have all three.” They never sacrifice comfort for aestheticism. “Comfort is a driving factor behind the design,” says Tor. “We’ve built our business on it.”
Building chairs is a process of constant refinement. “We’re always mocking them up and having people sit in them, getting feedback,” says Tor.
The Ericksons crafted this trestle table in collaboration with blacksmith Daniel Cole.
Robert Holland, a loyal client of theirs, can attest to this quality. “They’re terrific pieces,” says Holland. “Really beautiful, and some of the most comfortable chairs my wife and I have ever sat in.” They bought two rocking chairs—built to their measurements—for their Jackson home four years ago. Those rockers, priced at $7,100 each, remain some of their favorite pieces today.
The Ericksons often use madrone, unique to the West Coast, and ponderosa pine.
Holland discovered the Ericksons’ work in their booth at the Jackson Hole Arts Festival, one of several art fairs around the country in which Robert and Tor display their work every summer. They invite everyone to sit in their chairs, to experience the furniture for themselves. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by, say hello and give your feet a rest.
The Wapiti chair is their latest evolution in chair design. Lightweight and strong, it’s inspired by branching deer antlers they found on a walk through the woods.
There, you might find Erickson Woodworking’s most recent innovation: the Wapiti Chair. Illustrating their relationship to the natural world, its frame forks and curves like the deer antlers that inspired its design. The result is organic, elegant and, above all, comfortable. Like all their pieces, the Wapiti chair comes from the land they call home, land that was clear-cut when Robert bought it. Now, thanks to the Ericksons’ protection, the forest is flourishing again. Each chair and table is a little part of that forest, shaped and preserved by master craftsmen, to be enjoyed for generations to come.
As seen in the September/October 2019 issue