Student class projects impress furniture entrepreneur

Roger Coda
students display projects for guest furniture maker

Jackson DiCarlo, a senior Communication: Video Production major from Orchard Park, shows a wooden sword that he crafted with black walnut and ash, to George Theofilactidis, and his wife, Kathy (far right).

The course ARTS 390 Special Topics: Woodworking certainly lived up to its name.

George Theofilactidis, who founded specialty furniture maker El Greco Woodworking, Inc., more than 45 years ago, visited the class recently to see prototypes created by students using mostly blocks of wood that his company donates to SUNY Fredonia’s sculpture program.

“I was very, very amazed with all the pictures that I got from the projects that you made,” Mr. Theofilactidis shared during an informal “show and tell” students gave.

For their final class project, students designed and built bandsaw boxes, or prototypes, using factory cast-offs and rejected materials. “These guys are so meticulous about their material choice that if there’s a knot in it, if there’s just an end-grain crack,” explained Associate Professor Peter Tucker, these pieces are not used in children’s bedroom furniture made by El Greco.

Many of the prototypes – made of hard maple, black walnut, cherry and some ash – were decorative pieces, such as a candleholder, while functional pieces included a chess/checkerboard and cutting boards. Students outlined how the pieces were crafted and explained their approaches to selecting stains or finishes.

“The students have made amazing projects with donated wood from El Greco,” said Mr. Tucker, who has visited El Greco’s production facility in Jamestown several times. “I was thrilled not only with these projects, but with all projects in this class. These kids really impressed me with their sophistication and creative uses of materials.”

Tucker found a bandsaw box by Mikayla Canham that’s in the shape of a lower torso – with two legs, hips and tiny drawers that pull out, so that it looks like a piece of furniture – to be particularly amazing.

Madeline Keenan’s bandsaw box, made of dark black walnut, resembles a reverse “S” figure, with two drawers that open. “Working on this project was time consuming and it taught me a lot about attaching wood back together,” explained Ms. Keenan, a senior majoring in Visual Arts and New Media: Drawing and Painting, and Visual Arts and New Media: Ceramics, from Batavia. She designed it for her mother, who “loves all things homemade,” and can use it to hold jewelry.

crafted wooden box
Angeline Ginsberg's wooden box project.

For her project, Angeline Ginsberg, a senior majoring in Visual Arts and New Media: Ceramics, from Lindenhurst, used hard maple and black walnut to make a box that’s an abstraction of waves, with a small wave-shaped handle used to open the box.

“A challenge that I faced throughout this assignment was cutting the curves out in the beginning to shape the box and then it was a ton of sanding to get the surface that I wanted, but all in all it was a very fun assignment,” Ms. Ginsberg explained. The piece will be a birthday gift for her father, who’s a fisherman and really enjoys being out on the ocean.

Mr. Theofilactidis emigrated to Canada from Greece at the age of 18 and attended the University of Toronto before relocating to the United States, where he worked in a metal factory for two years before starting his company. Having his children join the business after earning college degrees has been a blessing, he said. In fact, Theofilactidis so passionate about his furniture company that jokes that El Greco is his and his wife Kathy’s fourth child.

“We do the engineering, designing of all the products that we make,” Theofilactidis said. El Greco makes baby and children’s bedroom furniture and has one major customer, Room & Board Home Furnishings which Theofilactidis said buys everything that his company makes.

“Business is good; we never slowed down, even during the pandemic, or in 2008, when there was a slowdown (in the economy). We found a niche,” Theofilactidis said.

Wood pieces made by four students – Mikayla Canham, a senior Theatre Production and Design major from Brockport; Veronica Gray, senior, Visual Arts and New Media: Drawing and Painting, Eden; Ginsberg and Keenan – will be exhibited in the Fredonia Showcase at the Marion Art Gallery, Jan 18 through Feb. 13, 2022.

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