Past Projects

Once Upon a Forest
Artisan Furniture was Once Upon a Forest

“This is a good business for the disenfranchised…,” Jerry Farrell says as he repeatedly sprays and wipes the glass on the clockface he’s about to install on the seven-foot-tall grandfather clock he built. It’s a magnificent clock adorned with a kiln-dried striped maple and yellow birch mosaic, “.because you can just go into the woods and make something out of nothing.” And the things that come out of Farrell’s trips to the forest are literally the stuff of legends.

Farrell’s creations look like Tolkien himself whispered the blueprints for benches and tables and clocks found in Middle Earth to him. In his studio and throughout his family’s restored Victorian home, there are giant chairs made of tortured looking roots fused together and baked to a deep brown. There are clocks and cabinets covered in intricate and seamless mosaics of fired birch and maple saplings harvested from the Catskill forests. Shapes from The Lord of the Rings mix with images from Washington Irving’s haunted writings and the resulting work is a collection of pieces original to Farrell. “It’s sort of like the furniture from ‘The Three Bears’ come to life,” he says while spraying the glass once again.

The grandfather clocks have established Farrell’s reputation as the “grandfather of the new rustic furniture movement” – a revival with roots in the early 1970s when he started making furniture. It’s fitting – in name and style – that the beautiful clocks are the cornerstones of Farrell’s company, Once Upon a Forest.

Jessica Farrell, Jerry’s wife and an accomplished artist in her own right, paints water-based acrylic portraits of wildlife scenes for placement within the panels and faces of the rustic clocks. “Jerry and I decided to add the option of paintings to his rustic pieces to enliven the furniture with color, enhancing and complementing the varied hues of the twigs,” Jessica says of their collaborations. Theirs is a unique combination of rustic and folk art furniture and decorative accent pieces that has caught the attention of editors from Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and House Beautiful. The Farrell’s work has been featured in many rustic furniture books and purchased by several celebrities in love with his unique style.

Jessica’s work also complements many of the intricate root- and twig-adorned picture frames, cabinets, dressers, and mantle clocks that round out the collection offered by Once Upon a Forest. Each piece is unique and consists of a variety of treasures procured from the forest. Some pieces are finished with a clean birch bark appliqué – like their mantle and wall clocks – while others bear the knotty roughness of dried twigs. “I have to follow certain standards,” Jerry says of the materials he chooses. “Self-imposed standards, really. I collect all my own component parts, so there’s continuity and sameness in quality.” That sharp attention to detail is an earmark of the Farrell’s work – perfect corners, polished roots, and rich, engaging paintings.

These days, the number of rustic furniture makers is larger than ever. For the fledgling artist who doesn’t know the secrets of peeling birch bark without damaging the tree or kiln drying striped maple saplings, Farrell sells rustic materials through Once Upon a Forest. At company headquarters in Sidney Center, N.Y. on the western cusp of Delaware County, the Farrell’s work out of their home and a newly renovated studio on the property. Farrell started work on the studio as soon as he received a grant from the Watershed Forestry Program. The work has kept him and his employees busy ever since.

The Program – a USDA Forest Service funded economic development initiative – works with companies using wood harvested from the New York City Watershed. Because a well-managed forest is a preferred land use for protecting water quality, the Forestry Program tries to help companies who use local wood. As a regular collector of watershed-based materials, Farrell was perfectly suited for a grant from the Program. The award not only helped him double the company’s studio space, it enabled him to install a new kiln to increase his wood drying capacity. To order pieces from Jerry and Jessica Farrell and Once Upon a Forest, call them directly at (607) 369-4916.

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