Steve Hendershot: This is Cedar Cathedral, a podcast about artistry, craftsmanship and the creative life in the Great Lakes. We tell the stories of people who inspire us through the things they make—and the risks they take to do it.
Cathedral is the word Ernest Hemingway used in his own origin story to describe the cedar forests of northern Michigan where he came of age. He’s one among many to be moved by this good place.
Clare Hendershot: I’m Clare Hendershot, that was my husband Steve. We’re part of The Diving Bell, an indie band from Chicago that performs around the Great Lakes. We’re really interested in what it means to be artists here, partly because we’re trying to figure it out for ourselves.
Steve Hendershot: So we’re starting this show to introduce you to people doing great work, and to learn how they’re making it work. The idea is to tell stories as well as to build a community of creators and supporters in the Great Lakes so that more great stuff will happen here. You’re part of that, because you’re listening, so thank you.
With Cedar Cathedral, we’re looking at people making cool stuff, and it’s really in that order—our primary interest is, who are these folks, and then why and how are they doing what they’re doing? Where do they live and work, who do they work with, and what are the choices and sacrifices they’ve made in order to pursue the creative life in their particular fashion?
Clare Hendershot: That part was pretty straightforward for Steve and me. We’re both musicians — we actually met at an open mic in Chicago — so right away we started playing together.
Steve Hendershot: But what happens to creative couples that want to work together, but the way to do it isn’t obvious? Maybe one of you does spoken word and the other is a home-brewer. Something like that. You know there’s a collaboration in there somewhere, but you have to work for it.
PART ONE: THE COLLABORATION
Detroiters Clare Fox and Wayne Maki went through this after they started dating. They weren’t crazy far apart — Clare was a printmaker, Wayne was a photographer — but they were looking for the magic perfect fit and at first nothing popped. That is, until Clare built a barn out of reclaimed wood inside a Detroit gallery for an art show. When the show wrapped, neither Clare nor Wayne could bring themselves to toss the old wood back on the scrap heap. And that was the spark: they were about to become furniture makers. Here's Clare Fox.
Clare Fox: Yeah, it was hard to part with a bunch of that wood. We both are kind of obsessed with wood and found objects and history and memory and our city. We started kind of hoarding it a little bit with plans to tinker around and make some stuff together.
Steve Hendershot: So there’s the seed, the beginning of the plan. But what’s next? Imagine you’re Clare and Wayne, in Wayne’s basement, staring at all this cool old wood but suddenly realizing how much you don’t know about the finer points of furniture making, and about working together, period.
Clare and Wayne are not the same artist. Clare is fine art all the way. She has an MFA and a bunch of gallery exhibitions on her resume. Wayne is on the commercial side — a lot of wedding photography and even more wedding photo editing. If any brides in southeast Michigan managed to get down the aisle with a hair out of place or a smile that was anything short of beatific, Wayne and Photoshop were there to set things right.
Wayne Maki: Like Hollywood style, making people look like they’re not really human beings anymore. And I fell out of love with that very quickly after starting to make real things.
Steve Hendershot: You can’t Photoshop a table. But you can apply the same precision and eye for detail, so working with Clare, Wayne did that. Likewise, you can imagine some crusty old craftsman looking doubtfully at Clare’s portfolio and saying, “Okay, Art School, let’s see what you can do with a good old fashioned American tabletop.”
Turns out she did just fine. They started working together and found that they complemented each other perfectly.
Clare Fox: I think that’s what makes us work so well together, is coming into this with different backgrounds and having a different skill set is so important. Wayne has an incredible mind for engineering and just the architecture behind it all; how to put angles together in such a way that is really interesting. With my background, finishing comes really naturally, and I had a lot of experience working with paints and ink. Turning that into wood stains and dyes, I don’t know, it all kind of just has happened.
Steve Hendershot: So you’ve got your two established, independent pros. Both Clare and Wayne were in their 30s by this time, in 2013, and each had done a lot of really solid work on their own, and then they come together to form an incredible team. Sort of like a sports movie, except without the part where at first there’s losing and fighting and everyone almost quits when the going gets tough. This was different.
Clare Fox: The way our look came together and the way that we started looking together was really easy. I don't know how to explain it, it was very easy.
Wayne Maki: It happened very organically. I don’t know that we had a look in mind before we started.
Clare Fox: We definitely didn't. No.
Steve Hendershot: A look showed up anyway. They made a tabletop, and sure enough, and it was beautiful: distinct, angular and geometric in a 19th century-meets-modern kind of way, and then Clare applied this striking finish that was somehow both nostalgic and brand new, so that the old wood came alive again.
And right there you have the vision for their company, called Mutual Adoration. It starts with a Detroit hook: all their pieces are built from reclaimed wood, mostly taken from old Detroit buildings that have been torn down to pave the way for the city’s renaissance. Then there are Clare and Wayne’s designs, which are very classic, in a nod to the long histories of their reclaimed materials, but also fresh and vibrant, with a new Detroit story to tell. Then they build the pieces together before Clare takes over for the finish. That’s Mutual Adoration — adoration for one another, for their materials and for their city.
Clare Fox: That’s what prompted the whole thing, falling in love with the history of things and what we can make out of it.
Steve Hendershot: One of their signature pieces is the Union Table, which really is a pair of twin, triangular tables that fit together like a folded flag on Veteran’s Day and just sit, side by side, mutually adoring one another. Here’s Clare, describing the moment they finished the first set.
Clare Fox: I do remember sitting on the floor in front of the washer and dryer in awe of ourselves because we couldn’t believe we had made this thing and we were like, 'How did it get to look like that? How did that happen?' And it was pretty exciting, pretty amazing.
PART TWO: RECLAIMED WOOD PARADISE
Steve Hendershot: It didn’t take long for Mutual Adoration to build momentum. Clare left her loft in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood to move to Wayne’s place in Ferndale, and the couple pitched a tent in the backyard to provide some shelter for the massive amounts of reclaimed lumber coming their way based on tips from friends and customers. They even used Craigslist.
Wayne Maki: People would post free fire wood and they’d have a picture of oak hardwood flooring that they took out of their house.
Steve Hendershot: So the wood piles up in the back yard, but as Wayne and Clare keep making stuff, there is absolutely no backlog of finished work.
Clare Fox: Everything we've made kind of flew out the door.
Wayne Maki: And we realized that we could earn a living doing this.
Steve Hendershot: Everything is selling: to friends, to friends of friends, and then they started getting requests for custom and commercial jobs, including for funky seating at a yoga studio in suburban Royal Oak, where they built what really have to be considered the world’s most awesome bleachers.
And then last spring, after spending the winter renting a workshop that they shared with a yak head and a Cadillac El Dorado stuffed full of pillows, Mutual Adoration moved into Detroit proper, taking up residence in a 3,000-square foot warehouse in the New Center neighborhood.
This is reclaimed wood paradise. There’s funky, vintage Detroit lumber stacked floor to ceiling, and these are very tall ceilings. It consists mostly of one big room, absolutely full of light, which hits the wood just so, and inspires you to see possibilities. Here’s Wayne in the shop with some wood that’s just come in.
Wayne Maki: We don’t know what it will be yet, but it will be something really nice. Hand-hewn barn beam mid to late 1800s. All these cuts are made by a farmer with his ax and this held up a part of his barn. The tree was probably 150 years old when it was cut and it was cut 150 years ago. So we’re talking 300 years since this tree was a little sapling. I don’t know, I get weepy thinking about stuff like that.
Steve Hendershot: Even the paint Clare uses is reclaimed from the half-empty gallons sitting in the garages of friends, family and even customers.
Clare Fox: Everyone has paint kicking around their house. So our colors will shift sort of seasonally depending on what we have access to. We work with paints, we work with dyes, and stains both water and oil based, and coming up with these different combinations. But I think my background sort of lends itself well to that, because I was always trying to push boundaries with what can the material do to give you the look that you want.
Steve Hendershot: So now Mutual Adoration is rocking. There’s a backlog of custom furniture orders, and these cool picture frames they make are selling at extremely trendy shops around the country, from Detroit’s own City Bird to the Homebody Boutique in Brooklyn. Clare and Wayne even have a staff, specifically a staff named Brenda and Nino, which means that Mutual Adoration continues to evolve. Its process may not be quite as wide open as it was a couple years ago, but it’s not set in stone either. It remains very much a collaboration, a testament to what happens when talented people come together on a project that captures their collective imagination.
Wayne Maki: It’s really interesting watching the work change over time, because it definitely has. We still have our look and I think we have a very strong look, but aspects of it have changed. We've gotten better, which is one thing that is really good. Our joinery has gotten better, the technical aspects of things. But also, seeing all the other creative folks around here putting their touches and adding small things is amazing, watching it grow. It’s like watching your kid go off to college and learn things on their own, right? It’s really neat.
Steve Hendershot: For more on Mutual Adoration, including pictures of their amazing work, visit cedarcathedral.com.
PART THREE: IN TALL BUILDINGS
Cedar Cathedral is brought to you by The Diving Bell, AKA us, but we’re not the only indie band you’ll hear on the podcast. We’re going to close every episode by introducing you to a great indie band from the Great Lakes. There are so many them, really a deep reservoir of awesomeness, and we’re excited to use this space to introduce you to your new favorite artists, one after the other. Let’s start in our town, Chicago, with In Tall Buildings. The song is called Unmistakable. This song is a runaway hit in our house as Clare will tell you.
Clare Hendershot: I love the soundscape here, right away they start to layer so many cool, different textures with the beat, the keys, and the electric guitar. So interesting and beautiful.
SH: The first episode of Cedar Cathedral was produced by Clare and Steve Hendershot from the Diving Bell. Our bandmates Graham Gilreath, Jake Gordon, and Charles Murphy assisted with some of the background music. Thanks to them and Wayne Maki and Clare Fox from Mutual Adoration, as well as Eric Hall from In Tall Buildings, and thanks to you for listening. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode. Before we go, hey, so this is episode one that means we need your help spreading the word - iTunes subscribers, Instagram followers - all of it. We're so grateful for your help. We need your help. The name of the show and of our website and social media accounts is Cedar Cathedral. Thanks.