Home & Design September 14, 2012

Valley Craftsmen

From woodworking to metal work, these men have a talent worth a standing ovation.













Bob Wiederrick

Bob Wiederrick took his first metal shop class in high school. He made wood-burning stoves, one of which sits in his Dad’s garage today (and still works).

He’s never looked back from that shop class and has gone on to create, with his wife Michelle, a successful blacksmithing business that’s been around for 23 years.

Wiederrick spent his high school years in Salmon, then moved to Pocatello to attend Idaho State University to pursue a fine arts degree. “I’m not sure my parents were thrilled when I said I was getting a BFA in Fine Arts,” laughed Bob. “I was originally looking at an architecture degree, and I realized I liked art better than architecture.” Bob met Michelle in Salmon, and dated her in college. They moved to the Wood River Valley in 1988, when Bob was 24 years old.

“I worked for Triumph Metal Works when I first moved to the Valley,” explained Bob. “Within a year I was promoted to senior metalsmith. I was only 24 years old and already a senior employee, and thought, geez, maybe I should start my own business.” In 1989 he and his wife did just that.

Wiederrick creates fireplace screens, belt buckles (sold exclusively in the Valley at Silver Creek Outfitters), railings, mantels, door hardware, furniture, lighting, pot racks and sculpture (check out his large bike sculpture in front of Sturtos in Ketchum), but he’s probably best known for his fireplace screens. He’s created more than 3,400 projects in his career and over 1,000 of them are fireplace screens. Nature is his greatest influence, and you can tell by looking at his portfolio—it’s a full-blown forest filled with animals—beaver, horses, elk, deer, bear, quail, ducks and dogs. There are full camp scenes with cowboys, intricate aspen leaves and fragile cattails. The outdoors is brought inside in Wiederrick’s work.
Business has been good for Wiederrick. “We were jamming in the ‘90s, house construction was booming and we were backed up for months,” laughed Bob. When the economy tanked, he had to scale back on employees (he’s down to one part-time employee) and in the summer of 2010, he took a plumbing job to make up for the slowdown. “During this slow time our online sales saved us—there was not enough work in this Valley to keep the business going. Things are a bit more back on track now and business is good, albeit challenging,” said Bob. “I’ve been fortunate to still be here—2010-2012 was rough, and a lot of my competitors are gone.”

Long ago, Wiederrick’s dad (Bob, Sr.) had some words of wisdom for him that have carried him through to this day. “Always do a better job than they expect, and you’ll never have a problem.” In all of his years as a metalsmith, he’s never had an unhappy client. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that Wiederrick works closely with clients to create metal dreams that will endure for decades—just like that old stove still sitting in his dad’s garage. -Julie Molema



Matt Burbank

Matt Burbank is a general contractor turned artist. A year ago, he took the plunge and made metalworking his full-time job when he opened Burbank Design.

Burbank first began to appreciate metal in his 20s when he designed and made custom jewelry, traveling around the San Francisco Bay area, setting up his tent at juried art fairs and selling his jewelry. His natural talent to create things eventually segued into working as a general contractor. Over the course of the last 30 years, while he was building houses, he was also creating custom metal pieces and, like so many other artists, enjoying it more than his day job. Burbank creates functional art such as furniture, fireplace screens and doors, steel gates and fences, fire pits, mirrors, coffee tables, picture frames, murals and other custom art pieces.

Burbank’s work philosophy is simple: he believes in “having the discipline to look at every detail.” His early art influences include M.C. Escher and other well-known artists, and his school teachers. “I had an art teacher in junior high named Mr. Metcalfe, who instilled a work ethic toward art that I have to this day,” explained Burbank. “He said, ‘The back of the piece has to be as good as the front.’ That phrase has always stuck with me.”

Nature influences Burbank’s art as well. He and his family moved to the Wood River Valley twelve years ago. “We were looking for something different, a change of space and pace in our lives. When a job opportunity came up in Sun Valley, we went for it, and we’ve never looked back,” said Burbank. His steel falcon piece is an obvious example of how the natural world influences his work—it’s one-of-a-kind and stunning.

“I enjoy working with metal because of its strength and versatility. Unlike other materials, I am able to get form and function out of a material that may be as thin as 1/16 of an inch thick,” explained Burbank. “Steel is pretty forgiving in that you can cut it open, re-weld it and re-do it.” Burbank is also happy that each piece of scrap is recycled and used again.

Even though Burbank Design has only been around for a short time, Burbank has the backbone of a seasoned artist and the gumption of a young entrepreneur. He believes in his work and isn’t afraid to take risks—especially with that falcon keeping vigil over him.

Burbank’s artwork can be found at Stuhlberg’s Gallery, Rocky Mountain Hardware, Scott’s Frame & Mat, Bird and Company, Alpine Aquatics and elsewhere in the Valley. His work can also be viewed online at
www.burbankdesign.com. -Julie Molema


Wes Walsworth

Wes Walsworth doesn’t just build furniture—he builds character.

With 100-year-old reclaimed wood and “retired” wine barrels from the forests of Hungary, France and the Eastern United States, Wes said he likes to give new life to materials that have already lived many.

“I like to work with wood that has a history. It makes for completely unique pieces that aren’t replicable,” said Wes. And by looking at each gnarled and warped structure, from the chairs to the coffee tables and benches, with packing stamps and natural patinas and grape stains, each piece definitely has a its own story to tell. As does Wes.

“I learned early woodworking from my dad and grandfather,” he said, while growing up in Sun Valley. But life took him in many directions before he would ever return to it.

An artist of music as much as woodworking, Wes joined up and toured the world with a Western-style punk band, Scotch Greens, for eight years. Combining that passion with the one to build with his hands, Wes did a stint carving out guitars for a company in San Diego. It wasn’t until time spent in Australia, living and working on a wine farm, that Wes returned to his early desire to build furniture.

“I got the idea to start working with wine barrels when I was there,” he said, and quickly began chopping them up, breaking them apart and putting them back together. “I started working with the shape of the wine barrel rather than against it—it has a nice smooth curve that’s perfect for making chairs.”

Basically, if it involves wood, Wes has figured out a way to work it. “Sometimes working with the older wood is a bit more challenging—it can be warped and weathered, imperfect a lot of the time. But that’s also what gives it so much personality,” he said. Now, after being back in Ketchum for the last three years, his craft has developed into a full-time business. Walsworth Furnishings has a mainly local clientele, he said, and is run out of his downtown studio that doubles as an apartment, woodshop, warehouse and office space. From there, he designs and builds all of his custom pieces, experimenting with the new materials he has on hand in Idaho, like steel, animal fur and railroad spikes.

In his off-time, Wes gravitates back toward music, where his craft evolves and is inspired. “Building furniture is just another creative outlet for me,” said Wes. “It’s a lot like writing songs.” When he can, he tours with Idaho band Old Death Whisper, singing, playing guitar and song-writing. “You start with a basic shape, try to keep it simple, and then slowly make it more interesting.” And each piece of furniture, like each song, is 100% unique. And 100% Wes.

“My style is my own,” he said. “That’s all I know.” -Kate Elgee


Jim TaftJim Taft is a cabinet-maker. He owns Taft Design Works, Inc., a cabinetry company located in Bellevue, that he brought all the way from southern California in the 1990s with his wife and two daughters, and has since turned into a successful local business.

But that’s not all. “I consider myself an artist,” said Jim. “Especially when it comes to design and woodworking.” He has been in the construction business for almost 38 years, working as a general contractor in Ketchum and building and remodeling homes in the Wood River Valley. But, when he was younger, he said he was passionate about art—mainly sketching and drawing—only he couldn’t figure out how to transfer that into a lucrative career. “I suppose if I’m an artist I’m supposed to be starving,” he said with a wink. “But if I wasn’t doing this, I like to think I would be doing something more artistic.”

What he found, as a way to curb his creative appetite when he’s not lining multi-million-dollar homes with sleek and simple custom-made cabinets, came from his time spent on the river. “I’m a fisherman,” he said. “That’s basically what I do outside of work.” A fisherman with an eye for design and experience in woodworking … I suppose it’s no great wonder this man began building drift boats. But not just drift boats—beautiful, handmade, wooden, framed McKenzie-style boats made from imported mahogany and sapele. Many people ask, said Jim, after seeing the boats, how he would dare put something so gorgeous in the water.

“They are made for fishing, for being on the river,” said Jim. The original design of the McKenzie boat, with a wide bottom and flared sides, first appeared on the Oregon rivers in the 1930s and ’40s, built with a continuous rocker for maneuverability and quick response when running rapids. But, as Jim’s friends have pointed out, his boats are slick enough just to hang on the wall—a decorative art piece to complement that framed photo of a 22-inch rainbow trout.

“I don’t get as much time in the shop as I used to,” said Jim, who now spends his days behind a desk, on the phone or the computer, delegating to his four other employees. “So [building drift boats] is a way to keep my hand in woodworking,” he said.

And it lets him be creative, he continued, “Which is what I love.” His style remains classic and traditional in designing both cabinets and boats, but together they allow for an artistic vein to be opened. And when not bogged down with business and paperwork, he finds solace on the quiet rivers of the Northwest, drifting downstream on one of his boats with long shadows and golden hatches on the water.

His wife Spooky was the one who first introduced him to Idaho, where they have now raised three girls. And although he came here mainly because the housing market in California crashed, Jim said he stays because of the fishing. “There aren’t a lot of places in the world like this,” he concluded. -Kate Elgee


Bob CommonsWhen asked about his background in metalwork, Bob Commons, founder and owner of Sun Valley Bronze, simply shrugged and said, “I had eighth-grade metal shop.”

What began in a friend’s basement in 1992, with homemade casting and foundry equipment, has now expanded into a multi-functional, family-run hardware factory with 47 employees and six dogs, right on the quiet Main Street of Bellevue.

Bob decided to start the business 20 years ago, he said, because of the lack of quality materials available in Sun Valley. “I was working as a contractor on some very high-end homes, but there were no high-end options available when it came to hardware,” he said. Recognizing a niche, Bob decided to teach himself how to melt and recreate metal parts with equipment borrowed from some Southern Idaho high schools.

Bob CommonsHe remembered with a chuckle and a shake of the head that the first six months were a complete failure: “They were very humble beginnings,” said Bob. But flipping through the 2012 brochure with hundreds of hand-polished products, patented pieces like the adjustable lift-off door hinge and “The Minimalist” escutcheon-less door handle—not to mention a clientele that reaches all the way to Belgium, New Zealand and Thailand—it’s obvious that failure was not something to be long-lived.

Recently, Bob has handed the business reins over to son Josh, who began working in the shop when he was only 16 (their third employee after wife/mother Debbie). Josh now does everything from answering corporate emails and phone calls to computerized drafting, design and pattern-building.

“Back in the day, you just started carving a hunk of wood until it felt right in your hands,” said Bob. “There was no such thing as perfect.” Nowadays, Sun Valley Bronze uses Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Haas Robots to machine parts with up to 50,000 lines of code that can get precision within one ten-thousandth of an inch (that’s the thickness of a Post-It note).

“It’s a very Old World process, but now we use state-of-the-art equipment for designing and creating it,” said Josh. “It’s very much a balance between the two.” And you can see that balance being equalized by father and son: During a tour of the factory, Bob jumped on a WWII-era turret-lathe machine and made a lever (manually) within a matter of minutes, while Josh stood by and explained the CNC’s modern computer coordinate and coding system. “These machines do essentially the same thing,” he said, pointing from the shiny robot back to the old grease-stained lever-maker. “But we know how to use both.”

And while advancements in technology have greatly improved the precision and productivity of an ancient art, Josh said he likes both the Old World and New World aspects of his craft. “I enjoy computer design as much as I enjoy getting something in my hand and feeling it being created,” said Josh. “My favorite part is the innovation because that’s where I get to be creative.”

And in the true spirit of Idaho-grown men, they started by building a business with their hands—and they never stopped. “Everything is 100% handmade,” said Josh (and environmentally-friendly). Their products range from 800-pound bed frames to dog collars and bear-proof doorknobs. But everything is made with the finest grade, non-ferrous, silicon and white bronze and all “built for life,” as Bob said. “It can all be pretty, but it has to be functional,” added Debbie with a nod. -Kate Elgee

This article appears in the Fall 2012 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.