by Jeremy Jones
Tis a Gift is a gift for fine-craft lovers and for anyone who is fascinated by the wonder of talent, especially the talent of owner and custom-furniture maker Charles Todd. When he says, “The blending of beauty and usefulness is what challenges and intrigues me,” he is reflecting on not only how he lives his trade, but also the defining maxim of the Shaker movement: “That which has in itself the highest use, possesses the greatest beauty.” And in a roundabout way, this is why Tis a Gift came to be.
In 2013, when Todd closed his successful business, Mt. Airy Custom Furniture, and put the building at 7054 Germantown Ave. on the market, it wasn’t long before he changed his mind. “I wanted to retire but I realized almost immediately that I couldn’t. It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said Todd. “The question was, ‘What DO I want to do?’”
“Charles knew he couldn’t live without it,” said Todd’s friend and fellow artist and woodworker Kathran Siegel. “He wanted to do his work for the rest of his life.”
So, Todd took the building off the market, brainstormed with Kathran and other friends and colleagues and came up with a plan: “Charles decided to repurpose some of the space so that it had new meaning for him,” said Siegel.
What had new meaning for Todd, manifested great new meaning for the Mt. Airy community and accomplished local craftspersons. Within a year of taking the building off the market, he created what is now literally a handmade retail gallery space. The overall design and the display areas are so organically present in a “form-follows-function” way, it is a whimsical challenge to focus only on what is for sale. (A magnificent 6,500 square foot furniture workshop and cooperative remains as it was in the rear of the building.)
Tis a Gift Fine Local Craft debuted in October 2014, so-named after the first three words of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts,” written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett.
“We knew we wanted to do something that would involve the community and the community of artists who live here – to show their work and get to know each other,” said Siegel. “We wanted to keep it local, not just the neighborhood but within 25 miles or so.”
Another goal of the Tis a Gift mission is affordable pricing; keeping items under $200. “We are always on the lookout for new artists and interesting things,” said Siegel.
In addition to Todd, Siegel and her daughter Cassandra Petruchyk, who is also part of the team, artists currently represented include ceramists, fiber, textile and paper artists, and printmakers.
A mini sampler:
Charles Todd – Woodworker and furniture maker for 20 years. Inspired by the arts and crafts era of the late 19th and early 20th century, his specialty is marquetry and woodworking. His natural-edge slab table made of English red maple is currently the centerpiece of the shop, priced at $5,000. See Lou Mancinelli’s in-depth profile of Todd and his work in the March 20, 2015, issue of the Local.
Kathran Siegel – Has been working with wood for 40 years. Trained in painting, she has a BFA from Bennington College. The wood sculptor and the painter thrive together in each piece she creates: “It’s my voice. It’s better than words. Unless you are a poet, words are too specific.” Her fanciful pieces and Table Top Series light up the shop with color. Siegel has exhibited at Woodmere Art Museum and the Smithsonian. Her work is in the Michener Museum permanent collection.
Cassandra Petruchyk – Working in pencil, pen and ink, Prismacolor pencils and pastel, this noted artist “draws” from her life experience as a volunteer at the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Her portraits express the personalities of animals both wild and domestic: “I feel I can give them a voice. I can show them as the truly emotional and feeling beings they are.”
Lesley Haas – Lesley grew up in Philadelphia. The signature of her work with paper is using natural fibers and pigments from various parts of the world to blend the characteristics of the fibers with different elements of style. She has exhibited in shows across the globe.
Joyce Inderbitzin – Potter and ceramic poet, Inderbitzin’s pieces are intricately cut in patterns that remind you of fine lacework, or perhaps a close-up of a butterfly’s wing. Beautiful and affordable.
Tis a Gift is a Mt. Airy gem, a harmonious blend of local artisans’ fine craft and inspiration.