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ARTISAN: CHARLIE THOMAS
For this craftsman, it’s all about balance.
By Jeannette Boner
Photography by David Stubbs
It was a one-hundred-dollar chair that carved out the career of Wilson-based craftsman Charlie Thomas. That was more than thirty years ago, and Thomas was without training and tools. Today, Thomas—his workshop is called Magpie Furniture—produces works of art that double as comfortable chairs, dining tables that can accommodate an extended family, or perfectly proportioned desks.
“You need two things,” Thomas says of furniture making. “You have to be stubborn, and you have to have a lot of patience.”
With those qualities Thomas has smoothed rough and unfinished canvases of walnut and cherry, spinning splitters into long, sturdy tabletops or delicate, hand-carved accents. Thomas has tamed piles of wood with a chisel and planer, every chink and click against the wood a perfect dovetailing of art and the mathematical demands of balance and shape.
“People have a narrow view of creativity,” Thomas says. “I think a lot of creativity is found in figuring out solutions to a difficult problem. Each piece [of furniture] has a problem that needs to be solved and a lot of it is mathematical. I think creativity can be left-brained and right-brained. I like being challenged like that.”
Thomas begins each piece with a pencil and a piece of graph paper. Sometimes he meets directly with clients, and other times he receives requests from interior decorators. Sometimes the order is about space, and other times it’s about taste. Every order, though, is about finding a solution.
Thomas uses trigonometry to hit the delicate balance between form and function. He fits furniture into improbable spaces, like a desk bolted into a wall because there’s no room for legs. Getting the perfect length-to-weight ratio, he has also designed a stable three-legged table.
“You are trying to solve a combination of function and beauty,” Thomas says. “Function is a given, but what’s the point if it’s not beautiful?”
Thomas admits certain styles and periods of time have influenced what he considers beautiful. You may find an Asian influence in some of his work. In many pieces, he incorporates fluid movement, using shapes such as a carved leaf that appears to “blow” through a cabinet. He’s drawn to the styles of the 1930s and appreciates the great attention to detail those pieces hold. “I really like details. They become the focal point. A few quiet details that pop out—that’s my own personal taste.”
While some see the deep cherry reds or the long grains of mahogany and fall in love with one of Thomas’ pieces, beauty is deeper for the craftsman. “So much of the beauty in furniture is in the balance of it,” Thomas says.