Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fred and Susan Beckhorn, Allegany Artisans.

WHITESVILLE: I expected to learn and to be impressed when visiting Allegany Artisans, Susan and Fred Beckhorn, in Whitesville this September. They are, I believe, creative, knowledgeable, dedicated, sprouting with hundreds of ideas and interested in thousands of things.
                First Fred Beckhorn showed me around his studio, previously a sugar shack with an addition for workspace and a showroom. He’s created an exhibit of live edge wood slabs in the shop (Live edge means that the side of the log is the edge of the wood so it follows the bumps, bulges and curves of the tree, as it grew.) so that people can choose wood for commissioned pieces but there are also finished tables, beds, mirrors, lamps and benches.

                I asked Fred what his favorite wood was and he went to a small display on a workbench – an illustration of his answer. Maple is the wood and variation the reason. Maple can be quilted, curly, birds eye, line eye and ingrown bark with variations on all of those. Blocks of each type not only illustrate new words but invite touch. The wood looks textured but feels sleek. Maple deserves a call out.
                Fred remembers a bowl he made at the age of 10 using his father’s gouge as his first wood project. Fred’s father was an electrician who taught at Alfred State College but spent his spare time working with wood and lots of other things.
                Fred’s early jobs included farm hand and carpenter and he gave himself a lot of on the job training building a house with his wife Susan in the 80s. In 1994 he took a wood design and a wood carving class at the School of Art and Design, Alfred University. By 1996 his work was offered under the name Natural Form Furniture and he moved from making the occasional bed and table to a full time dedication to designing furniture and sculpture in the reworked sugar shack.
                Fred doesn’t favor one particular tool or focus on a certain piece of furniture. His work is one of a kind, tailored to a certain piece of wood. He has hand tools, power tools and ideas that transform this organic material into both cozy/ contemporary furniture for decades of use and appreciation.
                Fred finds cedar in New Hampshire around the family’s summer camp and uses it to make mirror frames, lamps, beds and whatever it seems the wood was meant to be. I was also taken with two sculptural pieces made from whole trees sandblasted to expose the hard, flowing, inner wood.
                He finds burls and local hardwoods on the land which is worked sustainably. There’s a permaculture project to grow American Chinese Chestnuts, not to produce wood but for a crop of large chestnuts.  Other trees grow pawpaws, mulberries and persimmons.
                Fred Beckhorn’s work is at He has hours by appointment and will work with people to select the perfect slab for their table or bench or work to design a lamp that will suit a special space. Call 607-356-3700 to arrange to see his work or visit during the Studio Tour.
                At the same location, you’ll find Susan Williams Beckhorn - illustrator, singer, watercolorist, teacher and published children’s author.
                When people say they’ve written a book, what they likely mean is that they had an idea that started in their heads, grew in their hearts and matured in their minds until it was worthy of the vast effort of placing a rough version of it on paper, digital or old-school pads.
                One of Susan’s books started with wondering over a Luna moth on a screen at summer camp. The moth seemed like a magical fairy that chose her for company. As a 7th grader, she labored over the story in a notebook and brought it to school. Over the decades, her story grew, changed and flourished until it became a children’s novel Sarey by Lantern Light.
                Now, when Susan presents workshops for children, she takes her first handwritten version of the story to schools. She feels that it demonstrates the value of a child’s work. Her child’s story became a real book. So can theirs.
                She remembers making up a song about a rooster on the way to Lincoln School. She sang it for Miss Cunningham, the principal who graciously applauded the proud second grader and years later came to celebrate Susan’s first book at a signing party.  
                All of her books are about animals, children and other touches of nature. Susan grew up in a woodsy area north of Boston where friends owned ponies and children got dirty. She spent summers at camp in New Hampshire and still goes there. She loves fantasy, children and nature.
                In the studio are copies of all 6 published books but, on the day I visited, in her excited hand was an uncorrected proof of her 7th book sent to her by Disney-Hyperion and scheduled to be available for your hands in June 2016. She gave me a glimpse of the behind the scenes part of the book, The Wolf’s Boy.
                Susan spent over a year reading and rereading every picture book, chapter book, middle school book and young adult book she could find about dogs. She looked into the theories concerning the domestication of dogs and studies of dog and wolf behavior.
                She went to workshops - Writing for Boys and The Heart of the Novel for example. These workshops were short (expensive) intense sessions, followed by months of writing, rewriting and feedback and then another group session. She has also long attended local critique groups and, of course, spends hours writing, reading her work aloud to herself and rewriting.
                Mark Derr, author of How The Dog Became The Dog, corresponded with her to help choose a setting for The Wolf’s Boy. He felt that China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe were likely places where the first dogs might have joined humans. She chose to place her story in southeastern France and so traveled there with Fred to visit areas with ancient cave paintings and to actually go inside of some of the caves that have been opened to the public. She needed to see the caves and feel the area around them in order to understand what her characters would see in the story.
                On that trip, she and Fred went to the Neanderthal museum in Germany to build awareness of early people. Clearly, The Wolf’s Boy represents years of research and effort to capture and build the story but that’s only one side.
                The other side, the harder part, is marketing. It sounded like the sort of thing that requires one to plaster on a smile and boot one’s self out the door. Some people find making connections with agents, publishers and other writers at conferences helpful. Her website,, has information regarding this side of the effort but she does not offer direct assistance to other writers.
                Some of Susan’s books are now out of print but she has copies of all of them to sell and autograph during the Studio Tour. She is available for workshops and presentations with details at on her website with links from
                Visit Fred and Sue Beckhorn on Irish Hill Road in Rexville. They will be open for a preview on Friday, October 16 from 5-8 pm as well as during the regular 28th Studio Tour hours from 10-5 on Saturday  and Sunday, October 17 & 18. Find directions to all the studios at or call the Allegany County Office of Tourism at 800-836-1869 and ask to have one mailed to you.

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