Orinda Woodworker Duke Herrero Showcased in Moraga Art Gallery’s “Into the Woods”

(Elana O'Loskey, Photographer)
Orinda woodworker Duke Herrero, standing in front of his favorite sculpture in Library Plaza, currently has 40 works of his own on display at the Moraga Art Gallery.

    In its springtime tribute to trees-themed show opening on the vernal equinox, the Moraga Art Gallery features guest artist Duke Herrero of Orinda who creates museum-quality wooden objects. The gallery is showing about 40 of Herrero’s objects ranging from the size of a handmade pencil to an 18th Century reproduction Pembroke table. 
    Watercolor landscapes by featured artist George Ehrenhaft of Moraga also will be on display along with tree-themed ceramics, fused glass, jewelry, photographs and paintings by gallery members. The exhibition opens March 20 and runs to June 1. 
    Herrero first encountered woodworking in high school but went back to it after a career as a dentist. In the past he liked working with his hands and also did stained glass work and wire sculpture. At one point he made a Heathkit receiver out of parts so needed a stereo cabinet to house it. His father, a contractor, had a table saw on hand which Duke used to build a cabinet for the receiver. After that he made a couple of jewelry boxes and – as he puts it, “Didn’t cut off any fingers along the way. Enjoyed it.”
    For the past eight to 10 years he has taken Mt. Diablo Adult Education Woodworking classes in Pleasant Hill with instructor Tim Killen, who is also from Orinda. The first project Herrero tackled was a reproduction Sam Maloof rocking chair.
    “The most comfortable rocking chair I’ve ever sat in,” says Herrero. An original Maloof rocking chair goes for $30,000 to $50,000. Dubbed “The Hemingway of Hardwood,” Maloof always referred to himself as a woodworker rather than an artist. In 1985 Maloof became the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur fellowship (informally known as a genius grant). The Smithsonian described him as “America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman.”
    Herrero uses the challenge of making these pieces to push his skill level.  “These type of projects appeal to me,” he says with a grin, “although none of them fit in our house.”
    Instructor Killen builds at least one piece per semester so Herrero often follows his lead. Sometimes he creates something Killen has done in the past that he finds of interest. Herrero reads four to five woodworking magazines regularly where he also gets ideas as to what to make. His work is also shown and sold out of the Camelot Gallery in Nevada City (www.camelotgallery.com). 
    He likes to use hand tools such as chisels and hand planes because they keep his shop quiet and dust free. Power tools such as planers, table saws and routers tend to make dust and noise. In the class they acknowledge that if the traditionalists of the past had power tools they would have used them. He uses traditional hide glue, which goes back centuries.
     Sourcing wood sustainably is both difficult and interesting, according to Herrero. MacBeath Hardware in Berkeley is one resource where he finds better exotics and hardwoods. Ebony can still be bought, mostly black, which is used for accents. A 1-foot by 1-foot by 1-inch piece of ebony runs more than $100. Reputable sources work hard to obtain sustainably sourced wood. 
    “I invite people to stop by and touch and feel these pieces,” says Herrero. You’ll see utensils, ballpoint pens, cheese boards, cutting boards, a toy helicopter and carved jewelry boxes in addition to reproduction furniture; everything is out in the open. Woodworks in the show run $25 for a bottle stopper to $4,000-plus for an 18th century table. Note that the table takes about 350 hours to build. 
    A public reception to meet the artists is scheduled for March 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. Wine, live music and light snacks will be offered.
    The Moraga Art Gallery is in the Rheem Shopping Center, 522 Center St., Moraga 94556. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information visit www.moragaartgallery.com or call 925-376-5407.

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