Local woodworkers toil to aid Town Hall Theater

MIDDLEBURY — A group of local woodworkers has transformed an 85-year-old pile of cherry wood planks into some stunning furniture, artwork and even a guitar, items that will soon be sold next week to benefit Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater (THT).
These approximately 70 cherry planks had long reposed in the Salisbury barn of longtime THT supporters Peter and Joann Langrock. The sturdy trees from which the planks were sprung had been harvested from the property by previous owners Douglas and Elizabeth Baker. But the Bakers never found a use for the prized planks. The Langrocks inherited the wood when they acquired the property. Aside from handing out a few planks here and there to friends and turning some of it into bookshelves and a coffee table, they let the wood sit and quietly season.
Until 2016, when the Langrocks approached THT Executive Director Doug Anderson with a great idea: Why not offer the idle lumber to local woodworkers to transform into creations of their choice? Local THT boosters would be able to showcase their own talents and star in a public exhibition culminating in the sale of their original work. They would split the sale proceeds with THT, 50-50.
Anderson loved the idea.
“Our unofficial motto is ‘a celebration of local talent,’” Anderson said. “Why not include woodworkers? They’re local artists and they deserve a moment in the spotlight.”
So the Langrocks invited woodworkers to stop by their barn to pick up as much of the cherry wood as they wanted, to make whatever they wanted.
Twenty-two people took the Langrocks up on their offer, and let their imaginations — and carving tools — run wild.
Almost a year later, Anderson is greatly impressed with the assortment of tables, desks, benches, bowls, shelves, sideboards, music boxes, doll crib and sculptures the participating community artisans coaxed out of the wonderful wood.
“We knew about the skills of these woodworkers when we signed them on because they’ve been creating beautiful things like furniture and kitchen cabinets and art for years,” Anderson said. “And still we’re blown away by the pieces they’ve created out of this ancient wood.”
Starting Tuesday, Oct. 24, Town Hall Theater will be transformed into a showroom for the wonderful works of utilitarian art. They will be on display and available for purchase at specific prices from noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday. Beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, THT will auction off any unsold pieces, with Peter Langrock — who is also a longtime attorney, author and painter — running the auction.
MIDDLEBURY RESIDENT TOM Klemmer made this sideboard for the Great Cherry Woodcraft Exhibit at THT. Photo courtesy Tom Klemmer
Tom Klemmer is an airline pilot by trade. But when he’s not flying or enjoying time with his family, he’s firmly grounded in his workshop, where he lovingly turns out glorious pieces of furniture.
He was drawn to the craft, for very practical reasons, more than two decades ago. He and his spouse, Beth Stanway — a THT board member — were just starting out and like most young couples, didn’t have money to burn on furniture. At the same time, they didn’t want to make do with the bargain, pressed-wood offerings from big box stores.
Klemmer did some research, purchased some tools and raw materials, and decided to make the furniture he and his wife needed.
“It was a lot simpler than I thought it would be,” he said of the process.
As the years went by, Klemmer continued to make furniture as a hobby rather than as a necessity. He’s good at it — so good that he’s been encouraged to sell his creations. But he’s been content to give the furniture away to friends and family.
Roughly a year ago, Anderson spied an example of Klemmer’s work — a desk he had made for Stanway to use at her job with IPJ Real Estate. Anderson recruited Klemmer to lend his talents to the fundraiser.
“I was honored to be asked to be a part of it,” Klemmer said.
He has made a fine table (see photo) as his contribution to the THT fundraiser. He has enough wood left over to make a complementary mirror, though on Monday he wasn’t sure if he’d have enough time to finish it. Klemmer estimated he has spent more than 40 hours making the table, a chore rendered more challenging by the knots, turns and tiny insect holes present in the planks. Like any good woodworker, Klemmer worked with the imperfections, believing they added character to the final product.
Klemmer will be a keen observer at the upcoming THT exhibit.
“I’m really excited to see what other people have turned out with this wood,” Klemmer said.
One of those other people is Nancy Malcolm, a longtime community volunteer and current chairwoman of the Middlebury Planning Commission. Like Klemmer, Malcolm is at home in a workshop, and has lent her woodworking talents to past THT fundraisers. In 2014, she made one of the oversized chairs that drew attention to the theater’s annual membership drive.
“I did not hesitate to jump at the chance to do this project,” Malcolm said through an emailed response to the Addison Independent. “There aren’t many woodworkers who wouldn’t want to use aged Vermont cherry just handed to them.”
MIDDLEBURY RESIDENT NANCY Malcom created this Cherry bench for the Great Cherry Woodcraft Exhibit at THT. 
She decided to make what she called a “a natural live edge bench” (see photo).
Malcolm acknowledged the challenges of working with the natural curveballs Mother Nature built into the planks.
“This wood was far from perfect and unleashing the beauty of it was a challenge,” she said. “Many of the boards were twisted or cupped, and of course, irregularly shaped — just like they grow. The wood was rough sawn, so it was hard to determine what I actually had until I planed it. Seldom is a piece of furniture made from one thickness of board, so that dimension added another challenge.”
But like her fellow THT woodworkers, Malcolm persevered — with wonderful results. The bench surface showcases the cherry grain and beautifully acknowledges the tiny perforations left by the plank’s erstwhile insect tenants. She improvised the legs by gluing two plank thicknesses together to make them proportionally pleasing.
The piece is entirely mortise and tenon construction, with no screws to be found.
“It was important that this very special, 85-year-old Vermont cherry be the star and to that end, the design process of creating the bench took extra careful planning,” she said. “My process is to design something first and then select the wood. In this case, it was the other way around.”
More information about the cherry wood benefit can be found at townhalltheater.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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