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This Woodworker Puts a Modern Twist on an Age-Old Trade

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Jan 23 2019

With a dose of hot moisture and a little imagination, San Francisco-based woodworker Katie Gong makes the seemingly stiff become supple. Kind of like my attitude after a bath.

After steaming smooth, straight pieces of wood, Katie sculpts them into loose knots, braids, and squiggles, inherently fluid shapes that defy the medium’s natural rigidity.

To me, Katie’s work represents open-mindedness, possibility, and the means to evolve beyond appearance, expectation, or past. Her sculpture that sits in our living room—a wooden braid that bends upwards in an elegant arc, like a ballerina’s arm extending over the bar—reminds me to be unafraid to challenge the seemingly accepted, even when it comes to myself.

Katie sat down with me to share more about her craft, plus her fondness for classic 80s movies and finding freedom in chaos.

In one sentence, who are you?

I am many things: an artist, mother, wife, designer, and powerhouse.

What do you do? How did you learn it?

I’m an artist specializing in wood. I bend wood by steaming it, which is a unique and pioneering technique that challenges classic woodworking practices. I learned the craft from a young age. Growing up, my grandfather and father were both carpenters and taught me how to work with wood.

3 favorite possessions?

1. My father's Old Timer pocket knife. 2. My wedding rings and grandmother’s jewelry. 3. My adventure hat.

What does a typical work session look like?

I like to have a lot of projects going at once, so there are typically a couple things in the works at any one time. I tend to work a bit on each project all at once. Sometimes it can be a bit hectic, but there’s something in this chaos that allows me to move freely from project to project.

How do you get over creative block?

I try to take a step back. I change my surroundings and not think about the project. I find that once I zoom out, I find the solution I was searching for.

What was the last item on your to do list?

Getting a pedicure. Sometimes making time for myself can be tricky.

How do you see the world in 2078?

Hopefully I'll still be around then. Let’s see... I hope to be telling my grandchildren about growing up in the 80s, and blowing their minds by showing them ET and The Goonies. I hope that the world still holds on to the classics, like going for road trips, camping in cars, or reading books snuggled under a blanket while its raining outside. I hope that the world is similar to today and yesterday. Mostly, I just hope it’s not uninhabitable because of global warming or something crazy like a nuclear explosion.

What’s your number one bucket list item?

I’d like to have a solo exhibition in Japan.

Who are you creative crushin’ on lately?

My number one creative crush is always Aleksandra Zee. She's my creative sister. Windy Chein’s ombre knots are killing me, and Meryl Pataky is truly pushing the boundaries of neon art.

  • English Taylor

    Writer, IDEO San Francisco
    English Taylor is a southerner turned Californian with a weak spot for peanut butter fudge and Patsy Cline. Passionate about women’s reproductive health, she volunteers as a birth doula.
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