Natural selectionPublished on October 21, 2008

  • Glen Foster was recently one of 17 craftspeople featured in the 2008 Artists in their Environment studio tour in Chelsea and Wakefield at the end of September. For more about Glen Foster Fine Furniture, check out

Nature's art is the determining factor in Glen Foster's craftsmanship. The Wakefield-based fine-furniture maker says that the natural shape of the wood is his guide, particularly when he builds one of his signature flitch-top tables. The flitch, or longitudinal plank, sliced from the chosen log retains its bark on the outside edges until it is dry.

"Then, in the workshop, I remove the bark very carefully without digging into the outside edge of the wood," he says, noting the importance of environment as he creates pieces for Glen Foster Fine Furniture. "From that, I get the natural shape of the wood. And when that beautifully shaped piece of wood is finished, I think of the right base to display it."

The decision is akin to designing a base for a sculpture, Glen emphasizes; because each piece is different, the style of the base and the details of the design vary from table to table. "It can get tricky," he points out. "A coffee table is a harder sell than a console table or sofa table, for instance, but sometimes, the wood just doesn't want to be that high off the ground, so I have to make a coffee table."

While the flitch tables, with the asymmetrical tops seeming to float above their bases, are a key part of his work, Glen also creates a number of more traditional pieces, such as dining tables or Shaker tables, in his home workshop where the edges all are machined. "Most of what I do is custom work," he says. "Then I fill in the cracks with stuff for stores."

Either way, "it's all about the passion" he has for working with wood. Glen started young, building small boats from scraps of wood when he was six, but his long-time hobby did not become a full-time profession until 1994. This was when he finally put aside his other career as a research associate in fish physiology at the University of Ottawa. "I enjoyed biology and academia but I just wanted to build furniture," says the 49-year-old single father of two teenage sons. "Woodworking was simply more of a pull. I did it gradually, with part-time teaching and part-time furniture-making at first, but, when you turn your passion into your career, you finally just have to do it."

The learning curve was steep, but the rewards, in terms of lifestyle and creativity, have been great, he adds. "One doesn't get rich," says Glen, noting that his handmade furniture ranges from $450 to $1,500 a piece, "but I see people who have heaps of money looking at my life with envy. They're putting in their time so that they can retire and do what they want. I'm just doing it."

Glen lives with his sons in the home he designed himself, building his fine furniture in the workshop on the rural property. When he is not busy with wood, he extends his creativity to other mediums. A piano teacher since 1986, he began that venture as a means of paying for the grand piano he wanted to buy. Glen is also a keen photographer. "I like to create. That's my blessing and my curse," he says. "Creativity takes over in all areas for me. The science was quite creative. With the furniture, I'm not interested in reproduction furniture. I don't want to copy. I always want to make something new, that's sensible too. A nicely sculpted piece of wood really explains nature's artwork. And I have to be hands-on - I keep the business small and do it myself so that it's done my way." Written by Iris Winston

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