We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark and Kathleen Schaffer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mark and Kathleen, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
We’re not so sure we chose an artistic career path so much as it chose us. We’d both always been artistic, but didn’t have a career in the arts in mind as a viable option. Kathleen’s creativity was founded in music and drawing. She’s an accomplished French Horn player and classically trained singer. She also plays piano and guitar which she says she doesn’t play very well. I argue that and get a lot of eye rolls. She started doing pyrography (woodburning with a hot “pen) years ago, just as a hobby. Kathleen has a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and was in practice counseling kids who were vulnerable and typically either wards of the state or in challenging home situations. In 2011, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder; Mastocytosis. Now she has it well-managed, but the disorder makes it too challenging to work within the confines of a “9 to 5.” She left practice and started selling her woodwork online and hasn’t looked back since. As for me, I started playing drums at an early age and went to music school in Los Angeles to study percussion. Concurrently, I did voiceover work for radio, television, and video games. I’d been working in the bio-diagnostic laboratory field for many years until Covid-19 eliminated my position as a field sales rep in oncology. Suddenly, my passion became my only source of income. Woodworking offers a lifetime of learning. It is a Process (capitalized on purpose) that combines a totally unique pairing of technical and meditative practice. I capitalize Process because for us, it can be something akin to spiritual practice. Wood still moves, contracts, and expands after we mill it, so you have to be cognizant of the application to ensure its integrity and stability. Measurements, grain direction, species of wood and aesthetic aspects are all considerations dependent upon the project. The Process itself is one that is warm to both hand and heart. Wood is a beautiful medium with which to work. It’s amazing what some time in the woodshop, disconnected from everything except the Process, can do for your soul. If we’re successful, we will have transferred the joy we derive from making something through to the final product. The ultimate validation is the person who sees something you’ve made and buys it. It’s the most humbling feeling. We’d always been led to believe that we, as humans, are supposed to follow a path that starts with primary school, then college. After college you get a job wearing a sharp tie or a smart blouse and you go into the world to contribute to a corporation. If you’re lucky, you get a couple 15-minute breaks and a lunch before returning home, exhausted, only to do it again tomorrow. Now our bosses are our 16-year old son who is attending ASU Prep Online and our 3 rescue dogs. We bought a home in Bear Canyon a couple of years ago that had a shop space on the property. It has become our dusty little church where every time we transform wood, we’re also, in some small way, also transformed.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We design and build what we like to describe as functional art from exotic and domestic woods. Although much of what we make is from “premium” hand-picked woods, we love to work with the misfits. The woods that some may look at and because it has a knot or isn’t pristine, they don’t see its use. Like in the case of wood that may have a live edge (where the bark meets the sapwood), we may incorporate that into the design and sculpt the body of the piece around it. Not to hide it, but to show it off! We love to take a whimsical approach on some pieces. Like our take on the old butcher diagram, “Cuts of Beef.” For our vegan and vegetarian friends, we have a, “Cuts of Bean” cutting board with cut names like “Fava Flank,” and Mung Tongue.” Although you may prefer our Hannibal Lecter School of Culinary Arts cutting board? We feel work without whimsy is, well, work. We also do custom engraving using a CO2 engraver. We’ve many custom pieces that include everything from names and dates to custom graphics and artwork. Owning a business isn’t easy by any stretch, especially now. The only way we, and others like us are going to remain a constant is to have a shift in behavior when shopping. Shop small first! When you shop small, you’re not filling a corporate stock portfolio, you’re filling a pantry. For anyone considering starting their own business, we’d only recommend that whatever it is, make it something you love. Without passion for the Process, reverence for the product, and a love for the people who buy from you, it will feel like drudgery, which is what we’re all trying to avoid, right? Our work will always be a passion in progress. We hope you’ll come along for the ride!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Gastronomically speaking, there’s some must-eats! Maynard’s is high on the list. Boca Tacos makes some of the best street tacos anywhere on earth. The Parish (order the Drunken Angel) is phenomenal. Start your day with a Dutch Bros. coffee and hike Seven Falls / Sabino Canyon. Visit the Sonoran Desert Museum. Get a tattoo at Istari Studios. Eat anything from Barrio Bread. Visit Biodome, San Xavier Church, Tombstone, and take a walk down 4th Avenue. See some live music at Hotel Congress and the Rialto. Now go home fat and happy!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Our parents, family, and friends have been our biggest cheerleaders! A special thanks to Gary Gorny for gifting some of his unused tools which were a catalyst!