August 22, 2014 at 10:56 am

Handmade

'River of creativity' flows with furniture making

Artist Sue Kolb sits among her twig and pottery chairs at her studio. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)

When Sue Kolb of Ortonville spends time up north with husband Joe Wheeler at their cabin in Roscommon, she sometimes takes a break from fun activities, like kayacking and running in the woods, to hunt for twigs in ditches. She uses the small, slender branches to construct the twig furniture she makes and sells under the name Red Pine Pottery & Twigs.

“If I’m going to make a chair or two, I just go out and hunt for twigs,” says Kolb, who branched out into making twig furniture after purchasing several pieces at an art fair about 15 years ago, and later figuring it was something she could “probably” make herself.

With pottery as her first love, Kolb sometimes incorporates pieces of her baked clay into some of her furniture creations. “I started out as a potter, and I’m still a potter,” she says, “but I added making the twig furniture, and probably from day one, I combined the pottery with the furniture. Some of my chairs have tiles in them, and I think it adds a wonderful quality to it. I just love to create, and it comes out either in making clay objects or twig furniture. I have a huge river of creativity in me.”

When working with clay, Kolb, also a licensed practicing psychologist, draws inspiration from her “love” of color, but when creating with twigs, “it’s the tactile part of it” that enhances her ability as a furniture designer. And, then, like most artists, it’s sometimes seeing the work of others that inspires her creativity.

“Right now, we’re doing a few garage sales, and I’ll look at other people’s funky pieces and say, ‘Let me piggy back on that.’ So I look at other things and I’m inspired, and I’ll go to art fairs and say, I can do that better,” she states.

Back in 2000, Kolb, began perfecting her then “amateurish” techniques by studying under highly skilled and longtime willow furniture maker Clifton Monteith on Anderson Ranch in Colorado, where she learned to add comfort to her chairs. “The chairs are very comfortable and they fit your back very well,” she informs. “I know how to work the back and bend the twigs, and you can find a chair that fits you the best. They don’t really need a cushion.”

Kolb adds, “They’ll last forever, but I don’t advocate that they be outside. They’re very good inside a house, and if they get dusty, you just hose them off. The chairs will hold a person up to 250 pounds.” Each of her pieces is a one-of-a-kind, and “enhanced with a little polyurethane.”

Kolb’s furniture is priced from about $60-$1,300, and business is “good,” she says. “We open the studio a couple times a year, and it’s kind of like an art fair. We put big signs at the end of the road (M-15), two weekends in June and two weekends the end of November.” However, she accepts orders and inquiries all year long. The “studio,” located next to her house, was once an old barn that she and her husband, who makes cedar furniture, turned into their work space.

Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or jbrown@detroitnews.com. For more news and giveaways, visit her blog at detroitnews.com/crafts.