5 October 2023

Woodworking festival plans tree-mendous comeback to the Illawarra

| Dione David
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woodworker Brad Van Luyt instructs three people on carving wood in a warehouse

Woodworker Brad Van Luyt will be just one of many artisans holding workshops at the Wollongong Wood Workshops and Market. Photo: Eddie Hu.

After a three-year COVID-induced hiatus, the event formerly known as the Illawarra Festival of Wood returns this November, but, somewhat changed.

As the new name suggests, the Wollongong Wood Workshops and Market focuses on the workshop and market portion of the event.

And while the spotlight is still all things wood, it has broadened to include artisans of a few other materials. Of 16 workshops to be held over two days, the vast majority will focus on wood – but they will also include resin, metals (precious and otherwise) and paint.

There’s really only one brief for the demonstrations, workshops and stallholders – showcase beautiful and/or functional things made by locals who seek to share the joy in their art.

Such as Brad Van Luyt, a bush regenerator and woodworker who shares the beauty of both practices through spoon carving workshops.

“Spoon carving is achievable woodworking. It’s a project you can complete in a matter of hours, and you have this durable utensil that you made with your own hands, to feed yourself and perhaps even with material you’ve foraged yourself,” he says.

“In that sense it’s a really beautiful way to help reacquaint people with their local environment.”

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Brad, who has been “whittling sticks” since he was old enough to handle a penknife, carves mostly with weedy species like privet, boxelder and willow that he forages in his work.

“Part of a bush regenerator’s job is removing woody weed plants like these and, rather than leaving the waste from that for the fires to claim, I take some and turn it into spoons,” he says.

“I like turning what might otherwise be a waste product into something useful. I like the idea that I am doing it using a very old craft that perhaps hasn’t changed all that much in hundreds, maybe thousands of years. And I like the sustainability of using a natural material and human-powered tools rather than power tools to make something useful.”

Brad studied woodworking from masters abroad including “the man himself” Barnaby (Barn) Alexander Carder, aka “Barn the Spoon”.

In his Wollongong Wood Workshops and Market workshops, he’ll be taking participants through this meditative practice – all timber and tools provided.

“I’ll provide the instructions and hopefully everyone walks away with a spoon-shaped object at the end,” he says.

The workshop is open to all, with participants encouraged to work at their own speed, and tools for sale for anyone who wants to continue their spoon journey.

Other workshops will include jewellery making, a wooden mandala workshop to be run by prominent Illawarra artist Tegan Georgette and a series of workshops specially tailored for kids as young as eight.

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The event is organised by the married duo behind the Illawarra Woodwork School, Stuart and Suzanne Montague. Stuart is a third-generation fine furniture maker with a trade background and a fine arts degree, and Suzanne is a high school visual arts teacher with strong ties to the community event circuit.

The original festival was conceived as a response to their growing disenchantment with the trajectory of mainstream woodworking events.

“So many of them have become more machinery showcases than anything else. It’s so boring,” she says.

“About 60 per cent of students in the woodworking workshops at our school are women, and these events really didn’t have them in mind.

“We wanted to reimagine the woodwork festivals from bygone days – a multigenerational affair where people from all walks of life and all ages can have a good time and, perhaps, discover the joy of this beautiful art.

“We also wanted to hold it somewhere iconic, not in a convention centre.”

Woodworkers Stuart and Suzanne Montague carving wood

Illawarra Woodwork School owners Stuart and Suzanne Montague are behind the woodworking event. Photo: Illawarra Woodwork School.

In its latest iteration, it’s still a community event for the whole family.

Aside from a full schedule of workshops, demonstrations and major market vibes, there will be live music and vegetarian Indian food, pho, burek, organic donuts and barista-made coffee to purchase.

The Wollongong Wood Workshops & Market will take place on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 November, at Bulli Showground.

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