HO Studley

Heroes and Hired Guns – Part 1

The Heroes

Two groups of talented people helped make the Studley Exhibit a reality.  In the next blog post I will talk about The Hired Guns, those skilled artists and artisans I hired to complete specific tasks.  But for now I’m concentrating on The Heroes, those folks who actually donated their efforts to the cause.

The docent group picture just before the opening reception.  Photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar.

The docent group picture just before the opening reception. From left to right: Bill Robillard, John Hurn, Sharon Que, RickB, Jan Bohn, Sean Thomas, Randy Bohn, Don Williams, Derek Olsen, Mike Mavodones.  Not pictured: MikeM1.  Photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar.

Notwithstanding the substantial – and some have said excessive –  admission ticket price for the HO Studley exhibit, the event was at best a “break even” undertaking (it did not make it there, but I guess that’s why they call it “risk capital”) and could not have come together successfully without a cadre of dedicated volunteer supporters and collaborators.

Yes, The Heroes of the affair were those friends old and new who pitched in and contributed their time, talents, and treasure on your and my behalf to bring HO Studley to you.  They gave of themselves most generously, contributing their skills, labors and presence at their own expense to serve as docents  and willing hands for the myriad tasks that required conscientious completion.  They took vacation, footed their own travel and other expenses, and diligently prepared in advance to provide the patrons with the best possible experience at the exhibit.

As I said earlier the Studley Exhibit was like the tectonic plates of my life colliding, bringing together friends from the museum conservation world, commercial furniture finishing and restoration, and the newer world of Schwarzland.  I’d like you to meet them.


RickB during the installation of the exhibit.


I first met RickB when I was doing some guest instructing at the late and much lamented Woodfinishing Program of the Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) just south of St. Paul MN.  Rick is perhaps the best natural talent in woodfinishing I have ever met, which irritates me to no end, and he works in the Twin Cities.  He drove down to work as part of both the installation and docent crews.  And in the past, he spent a couple weekends helping me build The Barn.


Randy Bohn is a long time acquaintance from Minnesota I first met when I was guest teaching at DCTC. He’s had a long and storied career in antiquities and furniture restoration, and we have become better acquainted only in recent years. JanB is Randy’s wife, and she comes from the business side of the world as she administers a couple of professional organizations.  I met her for the first time last year, and she is an unmitigated delight to be around.  When I needed a couple of extra docent volunteers late in the game, Jan and Randy jumped right in with enthusiasm and elan.

John Hurn is a small businessman operating his own furniture restoration practice near St. Louis.  We met through the on-line discussions and in-person events of the Professional Refinisher’s Group and my forays to teach at the National Woodfinishing Institute in Minnesota.  He has been a faithful friend and contributor to my projects in the past, and it was a delight to once again have him on board.


John Hurn admiring the case as intently as did the patrons.


MikeM1 is a long time friend and historic upholstery collaborator, and a driving force behind the Professional Refinisher’s Group on-line forum to which I belong (and you should too!).  Mike decided to go “full Hal Holbrook” on us (Holbrook’s portrayal of Mark Twain is one of Mike’s favorites) and came to the exhibit as Henry O. Studley himself, regaling the audiences with yarns about the times and fashions of Studley.


Mike or Henry?


The success of Mike’s portrayal is clearly evident in this image below, where two dozen exhibit patrons are spellbound by him, while only three are looking at the actual cabinet!


Note the crowd size as Mike spins Studleyesque yarns.


Mike Mavodones was first drawn into the Orbit of Studley when he sent me photos of his odd wheel-handled vise.  I visited him in Maine and photographed the vise, which eventually was included in the pages of Virtuoso and then loaned it to be included in the exhibit.


Mike Mavodones alongside his very unusual wheel handled vise. Read about it in Virtuoso.

In addition, he volunteered to serve as a docent, and no one in the hall brought greater appreciation and passion than did Mike.


Sometimes Mike wound up holding the plexi panel for almost a half hour while I waxed ecstatic about the tool cabinet and contents.


Mike was usually the one to assist me in the removing of the plexiglass front for the “open vitrine” sessions.  He made his drive from Maine really count.   Though a new found friend, Mike was a tremendous contributor to the exhibit as installer, interpreter docent, and de-installer.


Derek Olsen, perhaps better known to many of you as the “Old Wolf” of the Old Wolf Workshop blog, which is how we met through correspondence relating to his always instructive and inspiring posts.  In recent years we have become personal friends, and Derek was on-hand in Cedar Rapids to do anything that needed doing before, during , and after the entire event.  He was there when the transport arrived with the collection, and he was there to load it up for return to its home.  Throughout the exhibit Derek was my “go to” guy.


Even after almost five decades of caring for precious historical artifacts RickP couldn’t help but be seduced by the tool cabinet.


RickP is one of my oldest friends, we having first met when he attended workshops I hosted at the Smithsonian three decades ago.  A successful fine and decorative arts conservator in northwest Arkansas(!), Rick and I share a passion for history and preserving the artifacts remaining from the past.  Rick only had one day to participate in Cedar Rapids, but he drove one day coming and and one day returning home in order to contribute to the installation of the exhibit.


Sharon admiring one of the turn-of-the-century wheel handled vises on the replica bench.


Sharon Que is a renowned violin artisan in Michigan, engaged mostly in restoring violins at the very highest levels as you would expect from a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bowmakers, the nation’s premier organization of that field.  She is also a gifted sculptor and active contributor to the Refinisher’s Group.  We first met when she wrote to ask about shellac.  How can you not find that appealing? It turned out that she was literally on her way through Cedar Rapids at the exact right time to be part of the installation crew and spend a day as docent.  Her skills and good cheer make her welcome at anyplace I am.


Bill Robillard “walking through” the cabinet history and contents with the guests at the opening reception for the Handworks toolmakers.


Bill Robillard is also a dear friend of many years whom I first met through the Refinisher’s Group and my times at DCTC.  A former electrical/robotics engineer, he has twice come to The Barn to help me work on the power system there.  Now semi-retired (yeah, he “retired” like I did!) with a furniture preservation practice in Green Bay WI, Bill has helped the entire Studley franchise in innumerable ways, and drove down from Green Bay to be on the installation and docent crews.


Sean Thomas is a physician from the Orbit of Schwarz.  We met first at Handworks 2013, when my compewder threw a tantrum just before the Studley presentation there, and whether by sweet promises or dire threats, Sean got the stupid machine to behave itself.  Sean was another volunteer enthusiastic to be part of the history-making experience of bringing Studley to the public, and was part of the project every step of the way.  His new friendship is one of the treasures I have collected along the path to this project’s completion.

There are no doubt other Heroes who should be profiled here — my collaborators at LAP, researchers JohnC and ElizabethC, to name a few — but I wanted to put, er, a face on the faces you saw alongside me in Cedar Rapids.

Without them it would not have happened.  Thank you all.  Your accounts in the First Bank of Don are brimming.

Here iare some more photos from the Gallery of Heroes



Mike, Sharon, and RickB installing a quarter ton of vises on the replica bench top.


RickP getting the crate with the tool cabinet ready for removing and installing Studley’s masterpiece.


Mike, Sharon, and RickB assembling the replica workbench top’s exhibit stand


Friends old and new enjoying a moment of quiet fellowship during a lull in the proceedings.


Mike and RickB readying themselves for the wave of Studley fanatics.


Derek and Mike laughing about something just before the doors opened for the first session on Friday morning.