Vagus Magazine Winter 2021 Feature Story
Kate Casey is a furniture designer and the founder of Peg Woodworking, a business created in 2014 that adopts a contemporary style to traditional design.
Brooklyn, New York
Kate's work pays tribute to the intricate weave patterns found in Shaker and Scandinavian designs. Her studio space is a group shop, which she describes as an amazing experience because "there's always someone there to assist or give feedback; I learn from them often".
How did you learn to sculpt?
I went to undergrad at Massachusetts College of Art. I was technically a printmaking major but would often create objects out of my prints. I felt I could think better when I did it in 3D. After school, I worked as a fabrication assistant for a sculptor and learned more working alongside artists with all different skill sets. My favourite educational experience was when I went to the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship to take an intensive furniture class. At the time I felt I had done things a bit backwards, the formal and concept-based learning before the ‘how to build’ learning. But I realized it gave me a better visual understanding of an object that I might have missed if I learned the technical skills first.
Why does woodworking appeal to you?
I think I love it because wood is very forgiving. There are as many ways to fix things as there are to screw them up and to me, this is very fun. Wood has structural limitations but is still incredibly versatile. This narrows my creative scope to what is possible with the material, but within that, I am allowed to play. For me, it’s so much about creative problem solving and playing with new techniques that keep me actively interested.
What do you feel makes your art distinct from other sculptors?
I feel I make very modern work but I pay a heavy nod to tradition. I love Danish modern furniture and the intricacy of the woven detailing. I utilize traditional woodworking methods to make my work and I love the connection to hand crafts that have survived booms in industry and technology. I do find it important to make work with a point of view and for me, bringing the classical to the contemporary and merging style with tradition gives my work a signature.
Veruca Wall Hangings
Freya Lounge Chair
What other elements do you use to diversify your sculptures?
I love the woven components in the work. This gives me a much quieter and meditative process to engage in. It’s almost like slow motion drawing, as a printer would, line by line. I love seeing the pattern slowly emerge. Also, the duality of the weaving is exciting to me. That it can be both visual and functional. Similar to making functional furniture within the bounds of sculpture, the weaving has to work as a comfortable seat and also be aesthetically striking.
What are some of the products you offer?
We offer a lot of seating mainly because I am enamoured with all types of seat weaving and I love pushing the boundaries of what forms I can weave on. I also designed some end tables with beautiful semi-precious marbles and quartzites where I let the intricate natural materials carry much of the visual weight. My favourite work is our sculptural ‘shelving’ like the Totems. These are curved and geometric shapes that stack creating abstract almost figural forms that can be styled for function or left open as a unique object.
Behind the creation of
The Euclid Shelf and the Totems
My curved pieces are made using a traditional barrel-making technique called coopering. I really like this process and it’s history. It’s fun for me to make modern shapes with this method, blending new and old.
With these pieces, I am hoping to show playful functionality. I like that this work can be styled and utilized or just allowed to have a sculptural presence within a space.
The math is very complex and requires a serious amount of precision. I find it fun to work this way because the math isn’t hypothetical. I can see the geometry that forms the curves. So it presents as a challenge but is very rewarding when you nail it.
Since its inception in 2014, Peg Woodworking has been operated entirely by females. The team of four, Catherine Woodard, Kate Casey, Sally Suzuki, & Alex Stewart, have committed to participate in community outreach programs that expose young women and under-resourced communities to woodworking and design.
When others come across your work, what would you like them to notice?
I obsess over detail, so I hope the intricacy and the attention to detail come through. The weaving allows me a pretty intimate relationship with a piece before it leaves and I hope that’s the energy it goes out into the works with.
Has your work changed over the years?
I think my work has become more polished as my skill set eventually met up with my eye. I’ll know when something isn’t working but without the ability to course-correct, there’s nothing that can be done. It’s been very gradual but I have the confidence behind the skill now.
What do you like about your own work?
The mindset I get into when I get to be in my shop and just make. I’m the happiest when I’m working on something I’m excited about. I feel really lucky to have that outlet.
Zetlin Cocktail Table
Elodin End Table
What has it been like to see your business grow over the years?
It has been the whole spectrum of emotions. It’s exciting and scary and I am mostly left feeling extremely grateful every time someone asks us to make something for them. This business has been all my energy and attention for years and I’m happy to keep it up.
Is there anything you’re proud to have accomplished?
In 2019 we were asked by Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign to make a podium for her Washington square park speech out of historical lumber from the Francis Perkins estate. Francis Perkins was the first woman in a presidential cabinet and as an all-female woodworking company, I was unbelievably honoured. We had our female-identifying friends come over during the fabrication to write positive messages in the base before we clad it in the historical material. It felt huge to be able to use my skills to push for equality.
Satet Coffee Table
Steelheart Bar Stool
From your experience, what is the sculpting community like?
The woodworking community in Brooklyn is amazing. There is so much kindness and openness. I have made friends out of several colleagues just by reaching out and admiring their work. It feels like we have each other’s backs which is not always the case for the fine art world, especially in NYC.
In the process of creating work, what have you learned about yourself?
I have learned there is no reason why woodworking is not a more female-dominated craft. It requires creative precision and that is it. I have found that it’s important for me to be clear about that and show young women this can be a very viable field for them to enter into. I can now clearly see that representation matters and how important it is to me to present these opportunities.
Check out more of Kate's work on her Instagram profile (Instagram: @pegwoodworking) and official website: www.pegwoodworking.com This interview was originally published in Issue 4 of Vagus Magazine: Steady Assurance. A longer version of the interview is available in the magazine.