Few people begin a career in a profession that is a true aspiration. Some never realize what they really enjoy doing until late in life. They retire to their garage or back room shop to craft jewelry, get the easel out and splash some paint, restore an old car or cut wood, sculpting it into something useful, artistic or both.
Jeremy Dunn, 28, figured out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life while attaining his bachelors in the Crafts/Material Studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He discovered a talent he didn’t realize he had and a love of working with wood and other materials to create works of art that are both interesting to look at and utilitarian.
“This stuff will last forever,” said Dunn last week from the Wren Gallery where his work was recently displayed. “Dovetails, mortise and tenon, rabbet joints; that’s what I use.”
His creations exude a solid yet delicate appeal, emulating and mixing styles from around the world. A leaning set of bookshelves has a Japanese flavor while other pieces have a more Scandinavian appeal. Dunn has taken a number of disciplines and combined them to make something individual. He’s sculpted items from wood, various metals, plexi-glass, fiberglass and even found items, incorporating them into his art.
As he described his work, last week at the gallery, he put his foot on a bench that acted as a centerpiece for the show, and then up he went standing on one side. The bench was constructed from car leaf springs combined with oak seats and backs, demonstrating the strength of his work.
The culmination of his work so far landed him at the Aimee Fenderson‘s Glen Allen gallery. Dunn’s exhibit was the first furniture show that Fenderson had featured.
“I’ve had different artists here but it’s exciting to have furniture,” Fenderson said, who not only owns the Wren Gallery but operates Aimee Susanah Photography from the back of the gallery.
An L.C. Bird High School graduate and Chesterfield resident, Dunn had started college at Richard Bland before being run over by a shuttle bus. This gave him a short time to reflect, but he didn’t quit. Although while at Bland, he still didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to keep going to school. I didn’t want to sit around and bath in [my injuries]. My art teacher just pushed me to go on. I had fallen in love with the art thing so when
I switched to VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew it was going to be in art,” Dunn said. An art professor took him to the crafts building on campus, and while touring the facility he realized what he wanted to do – work with wood.
“Art is not something you get rich doing,” said Dunn, “But I knew it was something that fit me and I would be good at it, and if the furniture thing didn’t work out, it’s still an awesome trade.”
Dunn said he felt like the cabinet discipline, something he is familiar with, is like another world, but it has helped him in his design. He says his work can be sparse, and at times he’s been tempted to quit and go back to work as a cabinet maker and then he will get two or three commissions, which keep him going.
“I’ve just gotten a china cabinet and a sculpture piece,” he said. “I just did a vanity for a lady, a regular client, and she said ‘we don’t want just a cabinet, we want something different’ and didn’t give me much direction, so I made this piece that was tapered and rounded.” Hard to describe his commission, he said there was only one criteria offered by his client; that it would allow them to use a vanity sink bowl they had purchased in Mexico.
Although his art could be difficult from a business standpoint, Dunn says he has no regrets.
“As long as I’m paying the bills, even if it doesn’t work out, even with $40,000 in student loans, I have no regrets,” Dunn said, adding that it’s therapeutic for him.
Once he imagines a design, the proof is in the putting. Dunn has used wood from old pallets and molded table legs from fiberglass but everything needs a finish in the end, that’s where you turn to genetics.
Dunn got his technique for finishes from his experience with his father, JC Dunn, who once was an expert car body spray man but now spray paints robotic equipment.
Spending two years working for cabinet maker Dustin Phillips in Amelia introduced him to more processes, convincing him to switch from oil as a finish to lacquer.
“I fell in love with lacquer; it’s easier, faster, and now that I’m out of school I’ve branched out into other techniques,” Dunn said.
Nancy Dunn is Jeremy’s mother and public relations person. “She’s the glue,” he said. And the work he gets is primarily word of mouth, although he gets some promotion from his website, www.dunncustoms.com, built by his brother Jason Dunn.
“My dream is to have a studio in Carytown with a glass front and a room displaying everything. Then halfway back have a glass partition with my woodshop behind it so people could come in and see how it’s made and what I’m doing.”