The Woodshop on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, has become renown for their delightful local furniture, textiles, and furnishings. Visually-arresting, these home decor products are handcrafted by local artisans, embodying the vernacular culture and traditional techniques of the region, yet often reinterpreted with a contemporary twist.
Initially serving as a design and production incubator for all the furniture, textiles, and furnishings which decorate the Fogo Island Inn, The Woodshop on Fogo Island has become a self sustaining economic and cultural engine as their products have become prized purchases by guests of The Inn.
Back in 2010, a handful of Canadian and foreign designers were invited to Fogo Island to learn everything they possibly could about the area, including its history, its geography, and its people. These designers collaborated with resident artisans of Fogo Island to create meaningful pieces, using local materials, and construction methods. All of the furniture and textiles from the Woodshop are handmade and built on the island.
Not only do these artisan items help Fogo Island’s economy by providing work for islanders, it also gives back to the community. The Shorefast Foundation led by Zita Cobb ensures that the Woodshop’s pieces provide a 15% net surplus which is then repurposed towards other charitable programs on the island.
These handcrafted items from the Woodshop are modern and contemporary, yet, still reflect the history of Fogo Island. Both furniture building and boat building have been prominent crafts here for centuries, so furniture has always been a method of expression for islanders.
I think that The Woodshop sums up their philosphy best as follows: “On Fogo Island, our people have made a living from the sea for four hundred years. These intimate and careful encounters with the North Atlantic have created a culture that is highly determined, resourceful and pragmatic - and sometimes quirky and irreverent too. Our furniture embodies these cultural traits and has evolved into one of the most distinctive bodies of regional furniture in North America.”
Some signature pieces of the Woodshop on Fogo Island include the Snake Cushion and the Bertha Chair.
The Snake Cushion is a replication of a design made by Fogo Island native Elizabeth Ford more than 50 years ago. Local artisans Margaret Freake, Millicent Dwyer and Violet Combden designed this and it is handmade from tiny bits of yarn. It’s definitely a stand-out piece that looks homey, as well as colourful.
Named after Bertha Wilson, a Canadian trailblazer, the Bertha Chair has a touch of the country’s history. Although it may look a bit traditional in appearance, it still has Fogo Island’s uniqueness. The pattern was in fact influenced by the hand-carved shingles on Brett House, in Joe Batt’s Arm which has kept the local style.
A piece that I really like from the Woodshop on Fogo Island’s collection is the Long Bench which I think looks cool with its burgundy-coloured cushioning. Almost looks medieval to me, with a modern twist!
I’m also a fan of the “Sweetheart Puppy”, which acts as a 3-legged side table or even works as a stool. There are multiple versions of this table to choose from – so there’s something for everyone!
What The Woodshop on Fogo Island is doing for their economy and culture, is inspiring. Allowing local artisans to be a part of the artistic creation while putting money back into the island itself is both obvious and ingenious. These pieces definitely capture an interesting part of Newfoundland (and Canadian) culture and style.
The pieces are available on The Woodshop on Fogo Island, so make sure to visit their website to send an inquiry or to order as some items are available for purchase online immediately. The furniture store Klaus in Toronto also carries the collection and is worth checking out.
To learn more, visit The Woodshop on Fogo Island.
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Researched and Written by Kara Scerri, Graduate from York University, and Sheridan College, Ontario