GWEN GUNHEIM | HENDLEY HARD GOODS | Sonoma County
For Gwen Gunheim, a fifth-generation Californian, working with wood is a process that connects her history and heritage to the present moment. Because of her deep local roots, she desires to embrace the stories found in the materials she uses. In the early 1950s, her great-grandfather Harry built a house in Monte Rio, California. When it burned down in a fire four years ago, she visited the remains of the structure and salvaged what she could.
In her first trials with woodwork, she dismantled the steps of the house, which were constructed from old-growth pine, and reshaped them into handled French-style cutting boards for her family. In another project, lumber framing from the walls of the house became the base of a dining table, recollecting the charred memories of a previous life. A live-edge redwood slab served as the tabletop; it was sourced from a tree that she removed with her father from family land by Timber Cove, an hour west of her home in Santa Rosa.
“Gwen connects deeply with the history of the wood that she salvages, calling herself “a woodworker and a necromancer” because of the satisfaction she finds in “bringing something discarded back to life..”
Gwen connects deeply with the history of the wood that she salvages, calling herself “a woodworker and a necromancer” because of the satisfaction she finds in “bringing something discarded back to life.” Once, beneath an old Bay Bridge terminal, she found wood that had been buried underground since 1937; another time, hundred-year-old redwood burls stashed under a family member's house.
Gwen's interest in making cutting boards is connected to a fondness for sharing food and bringing people together. Though she has worked as a commercial caterer, she identifies primarily as a home cook. In fact, creating boards was born out of the desire to make “some beautiful and mundane thing you use everyday that is nice enough to serve a meal on.” When working with materials for the cutting boards, she begins with a general template but relies heavily on identifying the natural form and grain of the wood. Following the movements of its growth reveals the final shape of the product. Sanding the boards, she exposes further details of its deeper elements with each pass. A finishing blend of mineral oil and beeswax, from beekeeping friends on Taylor Mountain, enriches tones and protects the wood with a non-toxic finish.
Hendley Hard Goods is the name of Gwen's woodcraft business. She works out of a detached wooden garage behind her home, located on Hendley Street. The dim light and arboreal fragrance of the old garage feels familiar, stirring the collective cultural memory of a grandfather’s woodshed. Her revivalist inclination takes a tangible hold of the space as she cuts, sands, and imbues her heirloom materials with new life.