The moment after Robert Hanlon saw a film about the power that comes from being able to make something by hand, the course of his life changed. He felt empowered by the idea that he could make anything.
That maker spirit stayed with him, even after college, which is when he started making a living from his handcrafted pieces. Thirty-six years on he’s still creating and showcasing his best work at his furniture store and art gallery, Walker Creek Furniture. We stopped by during our New England road trip with the Lincoln MKC to learn more about his unique approach to designing and creating.
Most of the items in Robert’s store are shaped from old trees found in neighboring forests and antique woods that often come from the numerous 200-year-old homes in his town of Essex, Massachusetts. He uses the wood as a canvas for his paintings and as material for the furniture he designs.
Robert considers his craft to be “the best kind of recycling.”
“There’s just something natural in me that just wants to save stuff,” Robert says. “I’m not that interested in a new pile of beautiful boards and a workshop with all the best machinery. I’m interested in just sort of picking up what’s right there and making it into something. The antique wood that I use is worth more than new wood that I would buy. And I’m making it valuable again.”
Robert credits the content of his business to his location. Essex is known as the “Antique Capital of New England”, so old buildings are common in the area. Cedar trees are plentiful, and are central to his business because they have rot-resistant wood. That means that when they die, all Robert needs to do is dig them out of the ground and they’re almost ready to use.
But don’t be mistaken. No matter where Robert lives, he’ll always be making things.
“If I was somewhere with rocks, I would be making stuff with rocks,” he says nonchalantly.
While the store in itself is a walk through history thanks to its former life as an 18th century barn, it’s actually Robert’s house, which is located not too far from the store, that speaks to who he is as a person and a maker.
His home is filled with things that you would expect, like his paintings and handcrafted furniture. But then you realize that his house is not like any other house in another, very particular way: In lieu of support beams there are two actual living trees.
It’s clear that harnessing the power of nature is intrinsic to Robert as a person. This isn’t something that he just does, it’s a part of who he is, part of “who [he] was made to be”.
“There are certain people who are makers. I’m a maker,” Robert states with conviction. “I want to make everything.”
We discovered Walker Creek Furniture on our road trip in the Lincoln MKC. Discover more about the MKC here.