As we drove on to Michael Fleming’s property in Phippsburg, Maine, we were struck by the pristine nature of the place. Nestled in the trees on Morse Mountain and connected to the outside world by a long dirt road, the land is private, but opens up into a gracious lawn where large pieces of curing driftwood lie, awaiting a second life. Michael greets us with an open smile. His studio is a beautifully-weathered, shingled A-frame with wide flung-open doors, and windows placed at odd angles ideal for the space – allowing enough light in the summer, without compromising heat in the winter – harmoniously fulfilling the needs of the building and the artist.
Raised in Middletown, Connecticut as the youngest of five children, Michael was always on the move. “Being the last of five I had lots of freedom. Any chance I had, I was out the door and on an adventure. From early on, I had a great appreciation for nature.” After high school, Michael started traveling the world, picking up carpentry gigs along the way to fund his wanderlust. “These places did not have the convenience to get tools or certain materials. In some countries, I was forced to make the tools, just to make it happen. Simply because you have the latest and greatest gadgets does not make you a great craftsman. I was floored by what people could create with so little, and build pieces with such incredible precision.”
Although Michael is a wood craftsman, the essence of his art is not only in the skill with which he manipulates the wood, but in the curating talent with which he chooses his pieces. Michael spends hours each day scouring the beaches of both the ocean and lakes of Maine for inspiration. “I can walk through thousands of pieces of driftwood and pick up only a few. Sometimes I know exactly what it’s going to be when I see it, and other times it takes years. I’ve come to accept that my art is as much about patience and reflection as it is about passion.” With the help of a custom-made frame, he hauls his catch back to his property. Then, just outside his studio, he lets it soak up the sun for months in the elements in order to reach the perfect silvery patina, before finishing the curing process in his solar kiln for a few additional weeks. The result is a smooth, bright-white piece of wood shimmering with seasoned age and patience. From the jumping off point of his initial ideas about a particular piece of driftwood, Michael works with a chisel and saw to mold the piece while keeping it’s organic integrity. “I simply see the potential of a piece of wood and work with it in its natural state,” he says. Without any adherent, such as glue, nails or wedges, Michael creates mortise and tenon joints, which are not only simple to match his work’s aesthetic, but strong enough to last a lifetime.
Michael Fleming’s designs, from his furniture to his fine art and sculptures, are a reflection of the effect of time, patience, and transformation. He sees potential in an element discarded by nature and worthless upon first glance, and infuses his vision to create a gorgeous and, often times, useful work of art. “I deeply relate to something that has traveled and been transformed by the elements over time,” says the artist. “There is a mystery ingrained in every piece.”
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