Approaching the home of Rosanna Coyne, master woodworker, one starts to see neatly placed chunks, blocks, logs, and trunks of wood weathering and drying in the elements in Hampden, Massachusetts. Stepping into the federal style home that she designed, one realizes the incredible level of skill and artistry she possesses. She points out the handmade wood moldings around doors and windows that she constructed, the gorgeous decorative stair risers she carved, and the light filled studio, brimming with ideas and works in progress.
When faced with this level of talent and highly refined skill, clichés easily pop into mind, but they don’t begin to do justice to the work or the woman. Rosanna is deeply committed to her work, and literally lives in and with her creations. Being admitted to her classical looking studio is a rare treat indeed, and one sees the creative process in every stage. Large drafting tables and vertical drafting boards hold architectural plans and drawings, a corner table holds museum quality turned bowls and vases of various woods, finishes, and luster, and her masterful dark Windsor chair sits in the corner. A work in progress, a life sized sculpture of a horsehead, sits on its rotating stand, showing the chiseled side, as well as the finished, smooth-as-marble side, executed in basswood. Custom, carved panels take one’s breath away.
The list of projects she has completed is staggering, including not only the work on her own home but custom pieces for clients, including deeply carved frames, mantels, coats of arms, mahogany tack boxes, furniture, and classical columns, to name a few. She even restored a heavy, Victorian pool table.
Rosanna’s penchant for woodworking began as a teenager. She had loved antique furniture, and was drawn to its availability, and workability. She slowly started working with wood, and buying woodworking tools as her interest increased. After graduating from college she used much of her income from an office job to buy more and better tools as her skills and interest in the medium took off. She sought out the best teachers at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, where she learned to use hand, as well as machine tools. This led to studying with master woodworker Dimitrios Klitsas, of Hampden, MA. for six years, where she learned drafting and architectural drawing as well. Rosanna says that she started doing decorative carving during this “apprentice” period as a way to enhance the furniture she was crafting.
Rosanna has also studied with master chair maker Michael Dunbar. She stresses the importance of seeking out the very best teachers in this craft, as well as buying the highest quality tools available in one’s quest for excellent results. Her own exquisite classic Windsor chair sits in a corner of her studio like an elegant sculpture, and is a testament to her superior furniture making skills.
In a field that has traditionally been dominated by men, Rosanna has become a highly respected master woodcarver, wood turner, carpenter, and sculptor, with clients ranging from a high-end California interior designer, to a London collector, to a request that would become her magnum opus in Lyme, CT. Her sculptured, tactile, turned bowls in various woods have been featured in Architectural Digest, a respected national interior and architectural magazine. Rosanna points out that although the world of woodworkers is mostly populated by men, the women she studied with in her classes were excellent, and seemed to possess a less heavy hand, and a more delicate touch in their work with wood. It is also a craft that is inherently dangerous, with sharp tools, chainsaws, power saws, planers, etc. being part and parcel of her daily work. When working in her workshop she wears a special helmet with a ventilator, ensuring safety from flying wood, as well as an air supply free from dust and wood fiber.
Rosanna is an approachable, unassuming woman who is happy to share her knowledge and talk about the vast body of work she has built up. One feels in awe of such an utterly superior talent, yet she herself remains humble and grounded by a craft based on a product that was formerly rooted to the earth itself. Hers is a patient craft, and not one of instant gratification. In some cases, the wood she plans on using ages in her yard for up to two years, or when using green wood (which she prefers for its ease in working with) the object may need to dry slowly for two years before redefining the shape in some cases. A special, temperature controlled drying room in her workshop is lined with shelves that brim with turned bowls of every size and shape, resembling a potters studio. A kiln is loaded with assorted woods and projects that require specific temperatures and arid conditions. One of Rosanna’s favorite woods is spalted maple, in which the wood ages outdoors, while a fungus etches fine black lines into the wood which are revealed when cut into or turned. The results are unpredictable and naturally beautiful.
Other woods she prefers to work with are white oak, basswood, mahogany, ambrosia maple, and pine, which she gets not only locally, but from friends and family bringing gifts of wood from their own properties.
When asked about starting a new project, Rosanna explains that the wood speaks to her first, and informs what she will make. What emerges comes from a deep connection to the beauty of the wood itself. Her style is based in classical forms, yet modern and contemporary at the same time. Sources of inspiration come from classical architecture, books, other woodcarvers, and Native American Mata Ortiz pottery. No matter what the project, she strives to let the wood’s texture and natural beauty shine through. One particularly striking finish she uses on white oak turned bowls results in a dark charcoal color, with the grain of the wood being revealed in light grayish white- the whole piece is then waxed and polished to a soft luster mimicking dark glazed pottery or ebony. No two pieces of wood are alike, so the results are always varied and interesting.
Rosanna’s state-of-the-art workshop is a veritable maze of serious, high tech equipment- power saws, table saws, routers, planers, rows of the finest Swiss chisels, and the overhead network of an efficient ductwork ventilation system. She has invested heavily in the tools of her trade, and in so doing has had to learn how to care for and maintain her machines. Everywhere one looks there are turned bowls, some quite large, wooden spheres, huge chunks of tree trunks sitting on the floor awaiting a new incarnation, wood shavings, even a carved frame in a Byzantine pattern- in short, all kinds of wood creations in various stages.
Without a doubt, Rosanna’s magnum opus, or “great work” remains the Norwegian stave church portal she was asked to replicate in pine. The splendid portal is part of an exact replica of the medieval Borgund Stave Church located in Norway, built in 1180. When a wealthy Connecticut businessman decided to build an exact replica of the historic church on his property in Lyme, CT, he contacted Rosanna to carve the fantastical ornamental portal and lion columns flanking it. Starting in late 2012, and using only photographs and an antique print of the original, it took Rosanna a year and a half to complete.
Stave churches are medieval wooden Christian church buildings using post and lintel construction, and timber framing. Carvings in the churches are most often a mix of Christian and Viking symbolism, with elaborate interlace and interweaving patterns of foliage, serpents, and animals that can be traced back to Ireland and Celtic art. Rosanna’s job of replicating the intricate, complex carvings involved accurately mapping out the pattern to scale on the pine before executing the carving- no easy task in itself! It also involved constructing the massive door surround itself, measuring 10 ft. tall, by 7 ft. wide, which she worked on in her home studio.
The resulting masterpiece is nothing short of mesmerizing and magnificent, with swirling, all-over patterns of stylized dragons and serpents, foliage, animals, and interlacing that looks like the wood was woven and fluid, and not carved from a rigid surface. It is carved with such exactitude and faithfulness to the source that one can imagine the original woodcarvers from 900 years ago seeing it, and thinking that some sort of magic must have taken place! It is part of a handcrafted structure most of us will never see the likes of. It should be noted with pride that Rosanna was the only woman to be involved in the daunting project of replicating the ancient historical church.
Rosanna Coyne has distinguished herself as a dedicated craftswoman of exceptional talent, and one could safely say that she is truly a Renaissance woman in the field of woodworking. We look forward to seeing what this committed craftswoman creates for many more years!