Lary Shaffer Bio
When I was growing up on the Southern edge of the Adirondack Mountians of New York State, there was a family legend that ancestors of mine had been furniture makers in Bleeker, NY. The amount of hard evidence that exists to support this contention is, rounded off to the nearest whole number, zero.
My father was not a woodworking professional, but he could have been. He could make anything. I grew up working with him and still use a lot of his tools.
I have a B.A. Degree from State University of New York at Plattsburgh in Psychology. I must admit that I was attracted to Psychology by the lovely machine shop that the department used to make equipment for research projects.
After my graduation from SUNY in 1968, I was priviledged to be accepted to do graduate study with Nobel Laureate Niko Tinbergen at Oxford University in England. While I was earning my Doctorate in Zoology, I joined Niko in filming and photography. Again, I was drawn in by the beautiful machines. When I finished my degree I continued to work with Niko as a camerman on a variety of Natural History film projects for the BBC and Independent Televsion in Britain. I returned to America in 1976.
Back in the USA, I bumbled into a 25 year career as a college professor. There were no longer any machines to attract me to that position, so I was forced to acquire my own woodworking and metal working tools at home. I retired earlyish from academia as a State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor. I loved teaching and gave it my best, but I was ready to move on.
I have been indeed fortunate to have had many other wonderful life experiences. Two highlights: I became interested in the bicycle as a machine. I later bicycled across the United States from California to Maine in 33 days. On that trip I had a great deal of time to think about my values and to reassess my life a bit.
Travel writer and friend Redmond O"Hanlon invited me to accompany him on a three month long trip in The People's Republic of Congo as a companion and photographer. This trip is recounted in his book No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo (Knopf, 1997). No machines there, other than the ones I brought with me.
I have had no formal training in furniture making and I regret that. I have a profound respect for the interaction of teachers and learners. In the past 10 years I have read extensively and intensively about my craft. I have studied the construction of furniture whenever I have had the opportunity. I believe that my woodwork embodies the high standards and attention to detail that were required by my film and academic careers.
I now use machines to do the things that they do best and I do the rest with my hands. The furniture pieces that I make are solid hardwood coupled with traditional joinery. I use the best hardware that I can find or forge.
I was talking with a customer once about a cabinet and he asked "Can you do anything to make it look like walnut?" "Yup," I answered, "I can make it out of walnut."
Above all, I want my furniture to be honest.