Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Profiles in Woodworking: Julia Bonnheim

I was bound to come to the foundations class as soon as I saw the website. I wanted an opportunity to explore the craft of woodworking in a context where my questions could be asked and answered and where I'd be working on my own projects. I'm drawn to the handcrafted life. I like creating the world around me from scratch- understanding the beginnings of a thing, and appreciating the end result for the effort that it took. I didn't want to learn how to machine the wood, I wanted to know how to reach completion based on my own skill.

The wood itself is what inspires me; the beauty of the grain. I'm also inspired by people who are capable. I love it when someone takes the simplest of tools and a piece of wood and emerges with something that's elegant and refined. I'm intrigued by the skill and craftsmanship of people throughout history, drawn towards the old tools, and the people today who are creating in the old ways.
I have a two part dream that I'm pursuing. The first is to create a hand tool wood shop on wheels. I'm working towards taking the PTSW class in a year and creating the tiny house in the school's program, then turning that in to a woodshop that I can park in Portland. My hope is that it can be a place where folks will be exposed to traditional craftsmanship while I work. The second part of the dream is to have a website called "Hand Tool Studio." I want to highlight the traditional craft of woodworking in as many ways as possible, chronicling my own journey as a beginning woodworker, and featuring the craftspeople around me, their shops, the books I'm reading, and the tools that I'm refurbishing.

For the past several years, I've been focusing on how to build with simple, earthen materials: clay, sand and straw. I'd like to continue working with sustainable materials whenever possible. I believe in a built world that's non-toxic. 
I've learned how to dramatically shift the aesthetic of a space with a coat of plaster that I've made myself and how to turn what's inside people's imagination into functional, earthen sculpture. I've worked with communities to insulate spaces with straw and clay, built a cob elephant at one preschool, and at another, I crafted a tree of straw, sticks and subsoil that the preschoolers could climb inside (the form was two stacked rain barrels). I transformed a basement air bnb into the "Hobbit Hole," with straw-clay tree roots snaking from room to room on the ceiling. I've made a bench shaped like wings, and a twisty-turning play structure/room divider for toddlers. My favorite wood project was a playhouse that I built a couple of summer's ago with my friend, Frances. Made almost entirely of reclaimed materials, it was basically a little cabin for Ruby and Clara. 
All of those projects, and most of my best work, have been in the context of collaboration. What's made the earthen sculpture work so wonderful, has been the power of many hands and minds together and the empowerment that I've seen around me as people learn that they can build their own spaces. 
I'm interested to see how my path of wood working might mirror those same ideals of collaboration and empowerment.

Contact Julia:
Email Address: jbonnheim@gmail.com
Phone: (503) 560-2254
Website: livingwallsplaster.com
Location: Portland, OR