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Wood artist's table highlight of Manitoba Room at London's Canada House


Wood Anchor's J. Neufeld talks art of woodworking, oak table now in England

Sara Calnek · CBC News · Posted: Feb 20, 2015 7:34 PM CT | Last Updated: February 20, 2015

As soon as you walk in the door of J. Neufeld's wood shop, Wood Anchor, you are hit with a sensory overload. The smell of freshly cut oak and elm is heavy in the air, as is the sweet smell of wood glue and sawdust.

It is here that Neufeld creates his one-of-a-kind furniture pieces that evolve from salvaged wood into something much more. 

"They come to us with an idea and then we chat about it," said Neufeld. "Then we kind of throw in our own flare and try to come up with something that's going to work within their budget and make a nice piece."

Neufeld thinks of himself more as an artist than a woodworker and nothing shows that more than the piece he was commissioned to build for the newly renovated Canada House on Trafalgar Square in London, England.

The only direction he received was to represent the province of Manitoba in the piece.

Wood Anchor gone global

The officially reopening of Canada House on Thursday was attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, and they likely visited the Manitoba Room.

"I know that there are a lot of events that happen in Canada House, possibly the Queen ran her hand along it as she walked by," said Neufeld. "That's pretty cool." 

J. Neufeld of Wood Anchor, a Winnipeg woodworking company, works on a hand-crafted headboard. One of his unique oak tables was commissioned for Canada House in London, England. (Sara Calnek/CBC)

​Neufeld hand-picked the oak log that was used in the piece because of its story. It grew along the Assiniboine River and was between 180 and 220 years old, making it one of the oldest he Neufeld has seen. In its lifetime, that old oak tree would've been exposed to all sorts of extreme elements.

"Going through really harsh conditions, floods and bitterly cold winters and really hot summers and all those extremes, kind of the same things that Manitobans have to deal with," Neufeld said.

"We also wanted to have some cracks in the table that kind of symbolizes the Red River and brought some of that idea into it, and so we picked logs based on some of those design concepts in mind." 

The Canada House table took about two and a half months to complete, and most of that time it spent drying. Once the log is chosen, cut, and dried in a giant sea container converted into a kiln, then the real art begins. After it was dried, they had it completed in a week and a half.

Showcasing Manitoba

"We were basing it on the fact that it was going in the Manitoba Room, so we wanted to showcase what we did as well as some of the art coming out of Manitoba and the products coming out of Manitoba," said Neufeld.

"That was kind of how the process went for us, was to be able to take this idea that they wanted a table, it had to be this size, and it had to tell a story."

Neufeld got to where he is today by chance, when he got a job in construction 18 years ago. He said he always thought it would lead to something more interesting — and it did.

"What we've always tried to do with any of the art that we're making is, it has to have some kind of function for us, so by putting this thing in there, it still is a table, it still can be used as hard as you would on any other table, but at least it's really beautiful and designed to be like that and just looked at."

Neufeld's company, Wood Anchor, uses reclaimed wood. His sources include timber from buildings, diseased elm trees removed by the City of Winnipeg, and other downed trees. 

The art of decorating Canada House



J. Neufeld of Wood Anchor sourced the 200-year-old Manitoba oak for this grand conference table from a small stand earmarked for development on the Red River watershed. “Many developers now call us prior to removing these trees so we can assess which ones we’d like to repurpose,” Mr. Neufeld says. He carefully selected the 12-foot-long cracked butterfly flanks to keep their shape in London, despite the change in climate. “The widening of the ‘wings’ locks the piece into the tabletop, preventing the cracks from shifting and widening,” he says. “The butterflies also act as a bridge between the two pieces, much like the bridges we have in southern Manitoba that connect both sides of the mighty Red River. If you understand wood, you can see the harsh winters in the grain.”

Windrow Table draws inspiration from Manitoba’s natural beauty


Windrow Table - Wood Anchor

UPDATED MAY 16, 2018

Wood Anchor's adventurous approach to design and its appreciation for the natural beauty of Manitoba are both evident in the Winnipeg design studio's recently launched Windrow Table. The former is evident in the sinuous, sculptural base, made of sheet aluminum that is cut and sculpted by hand. "There is no pattern for the piece," the studio's Ran Chan says. "The artist creates it from his mind, studying the form as it develops." The beauty of nature, meanwhile, is highlighted in the 150-year-old black ash top. Salvaged from areas under development, the trees are then milled and kiln-dried in-house to create a flowing, one-of-a-kind look. "We wanted to design a piece that embodied the essence of windrow trees that grow in coastal regions or areas of high constant winds," Chan says. $20,000 through woodanchor.com