- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - Tim Brudnicki stared intently at the partially finished structure in front of him, thought for a moment as he envisioned the next step building it, then said quietly “I think that will work.”

Brudnicki, the owner of Eau Claire Woodworks, worked Tuesday constructing a large custom wooden inventory display case in a high-ceilinged space at Ambient Inks, the Leader-Telegram (https://bit.ly/2knl0jn ) reported. He meticulously made his way through each step required to turn the blueprint in his mind into a finished product.

But for Brudnicki, his work is about more than function and form. He also envisions his labor as art, as a means of expression through wood.

That function/?art mix was evident as Brudnicki, working with two employees, continued his work for Ambient Inks. He took his best guess at where studs in the wall he would anchor shelves to were, then drilled two holes to check. “Got ‘em” he said with a smile after finding studs when he drilled.

A moment later his artistic side surfaced. He unfurled a tape measure, holding it at one side of the display case, then strode toward the other side of the structure to measure there. He pondered the work for a moment before discussing how he planned to alter his original design to give it a more attractive appearance.

“Of course there is the part of this that is about function, about designing and building what people want and about it working for their needs,” the 48-year-old Brudnicki said during a brief break from his work. “But I am an artist. I need to innovate and explore, to create and to bring out the best aspects of whatever wood I happen to be working with. Trying to do that, to find new ways to turn wood into something beautiful, I guess that’s what keeps me going with this.”

Brudnicki has garnered acclaim for his work, especially during the past year, when he experienced significant business growth. He became involved with an effort to recycle ash trees in Eau Claire being cut down to prevent the spread of a disease spread by the emerald ash borer into furniture and other wooden works. Another business Brudnicki is involved with, Tree Purpose of Eau Claire, is a result of that effort.

Brudnicki was subsequently hired to create furniture and other works, such as attractive desks and bar tops, for the Oxbow Hotel and The Lismore hotel. Last year his company created more than 200 pieces of furniture for the Oxbow, including signature pieces in the hotel’s restaurant, the Lakely.

That project, Brudnicki said, stretched him in terms of meeting demand. It also served as a big business boost.

“The work at the Oxbow really was a catalyst to get my name out there more locally,” Brudnicki said, noting that prior to the hotel projects, the majority of his business was from out-of-town sales.

Since finishing his work at the hotels, Brudnicki continues to receive a growing number of requests for projects, which range from small ones such as cribbage and cutting boards to bigger, more creative works like tables and headboards.

Business wasn’t always so good for Brudnicki. He and his wife, Christine, and the couple’s two boys moved to their rural Rock Falls home six years ago, relocating from Milwaukee, where Brudnicki once worked doing high-end carpentry and as a youth pastor.

At first Brudnicki struggled to get his business off the ground. At one point he was on the verge of giving it up and finding other work. Then he created a new product, two tables showcasing the wood’s attractive grain interspersed with a winding cutout dotted with pebbles he had gathered from the Boundary Waters.

Brudnicki drove to a shop in the tiny, artistic Pepin County village of Stockholm, where he sold items. He walked into the store with the tables and a woman perusing items saw them and bought them on the spot. Brudnicki figured he was onto something and built more of the tables that are part of the “River’s Edge” series. They sold too, and his business grew.

On Friday Brudnicki sat behind a large “River’s Edge” table in the office of the workshop he built at his property last year, a building just 39 steps from his front door. Nearby, two company employees worked on projects as a table saw whined.

“I love that sound,” Brudnicki said, smiling. He marveled at the growth of his business, how Eau Claire has “wrapped its arms” around him and how fortunate he is to have a job doing what he loves. He discussed the importance of balancing business growth with family life. And he said he is eager to focus increasingly on the artistic aspect of his work.

“Turning wood into works of art is something I have to offer,” he said. “Art is meant to be shared, and it feels most satisfying when I can make it and it can become a part of this community.”


Information from: Leader-Telegram, https://www.leadertelegram.com/

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