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Steve Revland goes over a tabletop surface at his Fargo studio in March. J. Alan Paul/ECCE Art Gallery

Fargo furniture maker lets Mother Nature do the work

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FARGO — After nearly 40 years making furniture, Steve Revland is going back to the basics -- the wood.

Known for sleek styles and angular work, Revland is letting Mother Nature design his newest line, what he calls “live-edged, solid furniture.”

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The Fargo artist is doing away with fine veneers and man-made forms. Instead, he’s letting the wood speak for itself, using raw slabs as tops for tables, consoles and benches.

His latest 24 pieces are on display at ecce art gallery in downtown Fargo through April 8.

“I’m like a reborn kid in a candy store seeing the next 20 years of my life,” Revland says. “I see this as the direction I’m going.”

That direction is back to the beginning.

Revland had no experience in design and little wood-working knowledge when he started making furniture in 1976, but stuck with it and developed his skills.

In the early 1980s he started working with exotic wood veneers and angular forms, establishing a name for himself.

“That period treated me well,” he says.

But he saw that period ending when he had a show at ecce in August.

“Honestly, it didn’t go over that well,” he says.

He consulted with ecce owner Mark Weiler and they discussed the national trend of using material in a mostly raw state.

“We saw an opportunity to offer it here,” Revland says.

Since the wood is left in its slab form and only sanded and treated with clear coats of polyurethane, the construction process is minimal. Though, since the slabs are often inches thick, lifting the tips into place takes some work.

“I can look at a slab and within a couple of days it is done,” he says, estimating the slab works take a quarter of the time it took to make the veneer pieces.

That’s because he doesn’t have to fuss with the raw beauty of the wood. He uses exotic varieties like Claro walnut from Sacramento, Calif., for its deep, rich tone or the Brazilian Gonçalo Alves, also called zebra wood or tiger wood for its fluid, yet dramatic visual texture.

While the trees may come from far away, he’s developed close relationships with the loggers, even the ones in Brazil.

“The closer you develop these relationships, the chances are you get the better stuff,” he says. “So far, so good.”

The pieces come in as thick planks, so Revland doesn’t need to cut them or glue them together as they stand on their own character.

“There are stories behind all of these slabs and where they come from,” he says, pointing to a slab of Cyprus from the American South. He says it was pulled from a river and estimates it could’ve been submerged for up to 200 years.

The stories they tell are punctuated by the natural design of the wood, adorned with marks called fiddle backs, curls and flames.

The grain isn’t always straight and that’s just a bonus for the artist.

“That’s the beauty of the organic nature of these pieces. Flaws are OK. Knots are OK,” he says. “I like knots. I know that translates into a highly figured wood.”

“He has a strong reputation in this area and this is something fresh and edgy,” Weiler says. “There’s a real gravity to these pieces.”

There’s certainly a lot of weight to them. The 60-year-old artist acknowledges that the wood lifting gives him a good upper-body workout.

Even his van gets a workout. He recalls picking up four slabs that were sent to him. The total weight was over 1,500 pounds and caused his van to drag in the back.

The works on display at ecce add up to 2 ½ tons of raw material, though Revland says some are as light as approximately 50 pounds.

The centerpiece of the show is a 10-foot Claro walnut table with an oxidized steal base, located just inside the front door at ecce.

Weiler says it took four men to move the 500-pound structure.

Whether the $6,800 price tag (the biggest ticket and biggest piece in the show) will keep the piece itself from moving into a collector’s home is now the issue.

Fargo artist Dan Jones was in ecce last week as Revland and Weiler were organizing the show. He thought the asking price was under-valued.

“Having known Steve since we were hippie-dippy woodworkers in the ’70s, I think this new batch of work is a quantum leap ahead of where he’s been,” Jones says. “It’s fresh and exciting. I was blown away when I first saw it. It’s exquisite.”

Revland’s quite fond of his new direction as well, in part because it has brought him closer to the wood itself.

“I think if I wasn’t a furniture builder, I’d be a logger,” he says.

“That fascination of slicing it open and seeing what you got.”

Article written by John Lamb of the Forum News Service

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