ST. GEORGE — This artist isn’t out of the woods yet.
From twisted grapevine lamps to live olive trees growing through his tables, Dustin McLaughlin is making it all.
“I’m not a tree-hugging hippie or anything, but I love trees,” said McLaughlin, owner of Humblewood Company. “I love them when they’re dead, I love them when they’re alive, I love them when they’re burnt. Trees are everything. If it wasn’t for trees, there wouldn’t be life.”
McLaughlin creates unique tables, benches, doors, lamps, chandeliers, cutting boards and anything deemed unusual. His work is made out of various wood, including manzanita, twisted juniper and a variety of slab woods.
He recently obtained a large collection of wood milled in the 30s and 40s and owned by a Norwegian artist known for his hand-carved birds. After he died, the wood collection went to his apprentice, who continued his woodwork. When the apprentice died in Overton, Nevada, McLaughlin purchased the wood from his wife.
The collection consists of exotic wood, including Brazilian rosewood, mahogany, ebony, purpleheart and fiddleback. While he typically only uses wood from the United States, this wood collection comes from all over the world. And he’s using it for a new art series.
“I’m using that wood, kind of following in the same intention it was meant to be — artwork,” he said.
How it all began
McLaughlin’s background in furniture and cabinetry began at the age of 16. Tired of making squared pieces, he wanted to make a twisted bookcase with straight shelves. He approached his boss and asked him how to make it.
“He kind of made fun of me,” he said, laughing. “He said, ‘Oh, you like that ‘artsy fartsy’ kind of stuff.”
At a time before computerized numerical control, or CNC, machines and computer programming existed, he had to figure out how to make the bookcase on his own. Once he figured it out, his mind went wild, realizing he could make anything he dreamed up in his head.
He bought his first home at 22 and began making furniture and art to decorate it. When friends came over, they constantly asked him where he got his pieces and were shocked when they found out they were all made by him.
“I can’t paint a picture,” he said. “I can probably barely draw you a stick figure. I’m not that kind of artist. But it’s the shapes that I see, and that’s what I try to put in my artwork.”
As his reputation grew, he began taking commissions. He’s created furniture and cabinets for many bars and restaurants around Las Vegas. At The Great Greek in the downtown arts district, all the restaurant’s individual four-top tables are by McLaughlin, including one with a live olive tree going through it. He’s preparing to have his work inside all four locations of the Born and Raised bar.
“The last 10 years, it’s really gotten to the point where it’s almost like a sickness,” he said, laughing. “I start to see trees and certain things that are shaped, twisted and kind of anomalies in nature. And I try to grab that and make it first, functional art, and second, art for what it is.”
McLaughlin said when he purchased 40 raw vines from a supplier one day, he had no plan for what they would become. When he decided to create lamps, his first attempt took eight hours to complete. To make the process more efficient, he created an assembly line with a worker of one. Stations included flattening and sanding, allowing him to save time without sacrificing detail.
“Even though I’m making grapevine lamps over and over and over again, each of them comes out differently,” he said. “And there’s always maybe one or two I may or may not take home for my own personal stash.”
Contrary to their appearance, he said the lamps are not fragile — quite the opposite. They are waterproof, resistant to sun and water, and won’t break if dropped or blown off an outdoor table.
Oftentimes, he is gifted old wood that is about to be discarded. One of these pieces includes an old, two-person bench that had been badly weathered, cracked and grayed out. The finished piece required wood stitching and filling the cracks with epoxy and beach sand from San Francisco.
As a resident of Las Vegas, McLaughlin said he spent as much time in Southern Utah as he could, enjoying places like Duck Creek and Panguitch Lake. He began selling his woodwork at the St. George Downtown Farmers Market and the Tuacahan Saturday Market.
“Both markets are great,” McLaughlin said. “I love coming out here. It’s peaceful for me. This is where I’ll end up relocating at some point.”
McLaughlin said he doesn’t post much of his work online because he wants to keep his creations original. He prefers the “old school way of thinking,” where he personally talks to people about what he does and how he does it over the impersonal aspect of the internet.
He also enjoys donating his artwork for a good cause whenever he can. He just donated the first piece made from the wood collection to the Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic of St. George. A grapevine lamp sold at a silent auction on Sept. 30, and the second piece of his new collection sold at Art in the Park, benefiting the Boulder City Hospital.
“I can’t donate that kind of money, but I can donate my artwork,” he said. “And if that raises money, that’s the best.”
McLaughlin is a full-time stagehand and father of two girls with an art studio in Las Vegas. To see available pieces or commission one of your own, contact him directly at 702-817-0725 or email email@example.com. Find @humblewoodcompany on Instagram. See him at the upcoming Starfall Ball in Cedar City.
“I enjoy everything I do,” McLaughlin said. “My whole life is dedicated to kids, a 14-year-old dog and my artwork.”
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