Woodworking Site Thomas|Work Born Out of Tragic Injury
By Catherine Zacchi | Posted: 05/28/2013 2:22PM
SOUTH CHARLESTON, WV - After one wrong step on a rain-slicked metal roof in July 2011, construction contractor Matt Thomas realized his life had changed.
What he didn’t know was the 16-foot plunge that fractured his vertebrae would lead him back to his woodworking roots in his hometown of Shock, W.Va.
“I lay in that hospital bed, immobilized and worrying about how I’d support my wife and kids,” said Thomas. “It was during that first painful week that Sally Barton with Tamarack Foundation came to visit me.”
Tamarack Foundation is the nonprofiteconomic development arm of Tamarack, West Virginia’s showcase of fine arts and handcrafts. Tamarack Foundation was launching a project to mentor the artists for a year, sharpening their marketing and entrepreneurial skills. Barton invited Thomas to be one of the eight artists in the pilot program.
The son of a carpenter, Matt Thomas learned theimportance of fine craftsmanship at an early age. When he was 16, he became one of the youngest craftsmen to be juried into Tamarack.
The talented young woodworker expanded his skills by apprenticing with master blacksmith Jeff Fettyfrom 1998 to 2002. Fetty helped Thomas successfully apply for a grant for a three-week blacksmithing tour of Spain, Andorra and France.
“He would joke that he was trying to get the sawdust out of my veins and infuse them with metal,” Thomas said. “He never did get all the sawdust out.”
After graduating from high school, Thomas decided to open his own general contracting business — Thomas|work — in 2002.
“It seemed a practical business to get into,” he said, especially as hehad a new bride to support. Although working in construction 40 to 50 hours a week, Thomaskept up his woodworking and blacksmithing skills in an existing 12-by-20-foot shed by his house to supplement the income of his growing family.
He converted an existing 12-foot-by-20-foot shed into a home woodworking shop and set up a forge outside. His craftsmanship continued to attract attention, earning him accolades as an “emerging artist” in the Tamarack Foundation annual report in 2010.
His injury in 2011 abruptly haltedhis construction career, perhaps permanently. Over the months that followed, Thomas regained mobility and focused on his art-quality wood furniture.
The pragmatic Thomas took a business-like approach to his craft. He refined his production process to a tight sequence of steps. Instead of automated woodworking equipment such as CNC routers, he uses specialized jigs with dedicated machines.
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