“SO HOW DID YOU END UP HERE?”

I consider myself a naturally born “maker.”  Being hit with a spark of creativity, forging a more cohesive design, and then hammering out its details. If my life has had a theme, then this has been it.

What I’ve made through the years has varied a lot  During childhood,  you might have seen me making replicas of the dragon in Ruth Stiles Garrett’s My Father’s Dragon series.  As the years went by, this evolved into a desire to make art.  The “language” I would use in art making was highly influenced from my summers  In Vermont, where I’d spend my days with my uncle and grandfather – two woodworkers and serious DIY project addicts.  They introduced me to the basics of construction.  With their hard work, a property from a barely inhabitable summer cottage transformed into a compound complete with a barn, a pond, an in-ground pool and two three-bay garages.  Using this knowledge at Bard College, where I majored in Studio Arts,  I tested my then-rudimentary construction skills by making large-scale sculptures and architectural installations.

After graduation, I gave Portland, Oregon a chance for six months before finally admitting that it wasn’t the place for me.  The decision to go west wasn’t working, and as a  result, neither was I.  In the back of my mind, I always thought that I’d relocate to Brooklyn.  Brooklyn has a vibrant creative community, so it felt like a good move.  My friend Donna, who knew I was unemployed and uninspired, told me about a landmark article in the New York Times which featured young, innovative artisans living in the borough.  She even highlighted a quote by noted Brooklyn knife maker and founder of Cut Brooklyn, Joel Bukiewicz, who, when asked about the new demand and supply for his products, stated that “it’s difficult keeping these guys stocked.  It’s like sweeping a dirt floor.”  Donna bluntly told me, “Sounds like this guy could use an assistant.”  The next day I finagled a meeting with Joel, and shortly thereafter began working at Cut Brooklyn.

While apprenticing at Cut Brooklyn, I began making tangs – the part of the knife that eventually becomes the handle.   I also developed a routing jig for Joel’s sayas (wooden sheaths for knives) while he oversaw the metal work.  I was still pursuing art making in my spare time, but my frustration was starting to overwhelm me in my five foot ten inch basement studio (for the record, that is my height, so yes, it was very uncomfortable).   I was having a hard time adjusting to New York’s confined spaces and began to think I was repeating the same mistake I made in Portland: basically, pursuing something that wasn’t bringing me any real joy or artistic satisfaction.  There was still a void.  

After a serious reality check, I decided I had to make some changes.  I re-evaluated my life and realized that it was high time to try something new.  My experience with wood in Vermont and at Bard, plus Joel’s influence as a craftsperson inspired me to turn my my low ceilinged art studio into a low ceilinged woodshop.  Spending every free hour I had, I hunched over experiments, research and anything else I could get my hands on to learn more about woodworking.  During this period, I made a few things, such as shelves, cabinets, tables and more.  Joel had mentioned the value of end grain cutting boards months beforehand, so it felt like things had come full circle when I made my first butcher block.   While I was intrigued with the ways I was able to treat, design and manipulate the wood into something both beautiful and useful, cutting boards were also a great fit because it gave me an entrance into the growing community of artisans.  Enter Brooklyn Butcher Blocks.

I began attending markets, and as orders kept coming in and the buzz about the products grew, I realized that I would be a better help to both Joel and myself by striking out on my own.  I’m no metal worker, but I could still be a voice for Cut Brooklyn while promoting my own wares.  Since then, I’ve been humbled and fortunate enough to appear in the New York Times, Tasting Table, Bon Appetit, New York Magazine and to have been recommended by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods.

So far, it’s been an interesting ride, and I’m excited about what’s to come.  And even though my toys and tools have improved, in many ways, I’m still that kid drawing and hammering, excited to keep working.

-Nils