Loren Bienvenu Woodworker & musician
In mid-December, Loren Bienvenu was busy working on a trestle table in a Second Street woodshop. Many Santa Feans may be more familiar with this soft-spoken, good-natured guy as a musician and freelance writer, but he has also been creating in wood for about six years. “I went to a yearlong program in fine woodworking at the Seattle Wood Construction Center, but I started out apprenticing with a Spanish colonial woodworker, Anthony Martínez, for a year,” Loren, age thirty, said. “He has pieces at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. He’s a master finisher.”
The shop in back of the Phil Space gallery was previously run by Paul Hart, the brother of Phil Space founder and photographer James Hart. Loren was Paul Hart’s assistant — including on many custom woodworking projects for Joel Muller of the construction company Tent Rock Inc. — until he branched out on his own a few months ago. “This table I’m working on today is kind of a Frankenstein project,” Loren said. The parts of the table, which he’s making on commission, come from disparate sources. The client’s father turned the pedestal bases. The top parts come from her neighbor’s horse fence. Loren cut both the base and the trestle using a couple of large pieces he got at the traditional family business Rios Wood & Freight Service on Camino del Monte Sol. The boards for the top were all painted black, so he had to remove all of the paint. “Today I’m trying to faux in the finish to disguise the exposed wood on some parts. I’m trying to match this gray tone, then I’ll rough in some of this paint.”
Part of the finishing effort on the table involved trying to achieve an antiqued look. Loren had brushed parts with water and vinegar and steel wool, which dissolves in the vinegar after a few days. “That kind of grays the wood,” he said. “Then I scraped it with some nails and wire brushes to try to raise the grain, to give it texture.” There was a desire to match other parts of the table, but Loren was also experimenting, playing. He planned to finish the table with “something simple like a wax finish.” He said the piece would be finished in a couple of days. After that, he had some doors, some shelving projects, and a kitchen island to keep him busy.
Asked about favorite hand tools, Loren showed a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels; a Japanese pull saw; marking knives made for him by a blacksmith friend, Shehan Prull; and a Clifton bench plane. The shop’s power tools include a table saw, a planer, a joiner, and an old drill press. He brought out an impressive small piece: a three-legged stool based on a famous design from Danish woodworker Tage Frid (1915-2004). The legs and stretchers are attached with rounded, wedgedtenon joints, and the back is joined to the seat with large, angled dovetails. “I made two,” Loren said. “I was only going to make one, but then I thought I’d better make every part twice in case I messed up. So I ended up making two stools out of one board of black walnut.” More examples of Loren’s wood projects can be seen at his (half-constructed) website, www.woodsandwords.com.
Loren’s musical persona is exercised in drumming. A recent group was The Shiners Club Jazz Band with singer and guitarist Westin McDowell and Tom Rheam on trumpet. “I was making music for a few slow months to pay my rent, because I didn’t have a lot of work here, but it seems to balance out. Right now I have no gigs, but I have a backlog of woodwork. The best musical thing I’m doing these days is playing a little with Tootie Heath.”
Albert “Tootie” Heath is a veteran jazz drummer ( John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Herbie Hancock) who moved to Santa Fe two years ago. Among his projects is a rotating-member, all-percussion combo called the Whole Drum Truth. Loren is hoping that the newest version, with himself and drummer John Trentacosta, will play in the spring at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe and Albuquerque’s Outpost Performance Space. “I’ve been spending a ton of time with Tootie,” Loren said. “He wants me to work on writing his biography.” Exciting prospects! — Paul Weideman
THIS TABLE I’M WORKING ON TODAY IS KIND OF A FRANKENSTEIN PROJECT ... I’M TRYING TO FAUX IN THE FINISH TO DISGUISE THE EXPOSED WOOD.