We recently farewelled one of our long term employees, Shane Orion Wiechnik. During his time at The Bower, Shane was instrumental in establishing and delivering a number of The Bower’s signature courses. Shane’s focus is perfecting his craft and he has left us to pursue his own business endeavours in the area of craft and conservation of furniture and decorative surfaces.
We pinned him down before he departed to learn what it was about The Bower that kept him here for so long.
When did you join The Bower?
I started at The Bower in 2014 as a volunteer. I was unemployed and had just moved to Sydney. I initially offered initially to help floor manage; but I found I got along really well with a lot of the people there including a guy named Mitch who was doing some furniture repair. He introduced me to that, and I became super-obsessed with repairing furniture. I worked on the counter for a bit while Guido (Verbist, The Bower,s GM) and I built the job that I ended up having later on. All in all I was there for six years, with one year away in England for full time study.
What were you doing before that?
I studied film and television production initially and then went into events and event décor in Boston. I loved aspects of that, except we’d make these semi-realistic props and bars that were actually zero benefit to the world. You’d be at an event, say a conference, and we’d be making the things that people got drunk next to, so it felt very removed from being helpful.
In 2014 when I moved to Sydney to be closer to my brother I was picking up furniture from the side of the road, fixing it and selling it on consignment through The Bower to pay rent. A lot of my skills were made up, but once I started hanging around The Bower Mitch taught me a lot and introduced me to some great resources.
My housemate at the time and I got really obsessed with watching everything we could find to do with woodworking and practicing the things we were seeing; trying out joinery and understanding stuff. I was mostly self-taught from there on until I eventually decided I needed to go and study properly.
Where did you study?
I went to West Dean College in the south of England, which is a school of crafts and conservation, to study furniture conservation specifically, which I fell in love with.
How did your studies support what you had learnt at The Bower?
At The Bower we had this philosophy of zero waste, of reducing waste overall. I went to West Dean not wanting to make things that would be thrown away in a few years because whatever I had done failed, or didn’t last, or decayed. I wanted to confidently make choices that would yield the longest possible result and I wanted my approach to be environmentally friendly.
I spent almost every day at the bench working on furniture projects. And I was also taught about chemistry and science, encouraged to go and see historic objects and meet people who worked in the field at the Victorian Albert Museum and so on. I think I learnt as much as I possibly could in a short time frame. It was incredible.
How much did The Bower change during the time you were here?
When I first started here The Bower was like Canada to Reverse Garbage’s America; most people knew of us because we were next to them. Now I hear from a lot more people who have heard of The Bower and know it for its own work, which is really incredible.
It has changed a lot: we didn’t have a dedicated furniture workshop at all when I started. There was a Men’s Shed workshop which was a tiny little room in the back of The Bower Building; it was run entirely by volunteers who would maybe come in and pick some stuff up and do something. The electrical department was also pretty small.
Now there are actual woodwork and electrical departments with their own dedicated spaces and there are consistent, quality education programs with classes taught every day. The Bower has moved more towards the education and repair side of things, which was kind of a sideline when I first started. Right now The Bower is really active in reaching out to the community to engage them in the concept of repair.
It has also found new ways of taking in a huge amount of items and finding ways to get them back out to people who need them through things like the House To Home program.
It’s all built in to the day-to-day. Beforehand a lot of it relied on different groups and our volunteers, which was cool, but now The Bower has really taken it upon themselves to manage and make sure these things are being done, and being done to a certain level of quality and consistency rather than waiting for another party to do it.
What’s your favourite memory of The Bower?
Teaching. In the year before I went away I was working 6-7 days a week doing 12 hours a day a lot of those days. People were coming in and working on things, we were prepping for classes and I was teaching a lot of them, but it meant I became familiar with a lot of faces and a lot of people and I got to see them grow while being able introduce them to our ideology and the basic skills they could use at home to fix things up. It was definitely one of the most spiriting things I’ve done in my entire life. Definitely.
What will you miss the most?
Community, definitely. Coming into the workshop every day and sharing ideas and things that we’ve learnt. Coming into the office and catching up with the staff there – it’s a really, really cool group of people who have a similar passion. At The Bower we talk about the inherent value of a piece and how to make it last, about how we can help other people understand those things. That shared ideology and caring about a similar thing is really incredible. I miss it already.
Listen to ‘This Crafted World’ co-hosted by Shane with furniture maker Harry T. Morris.