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Creative Compatibility: A Conversation with the Husband-and-Wife Duo behind Ironwood Designs

Contemporary wooden objects derived from the natural beauty of Vermont

Lifelong artists Bay and Josiah Jackson create contemporary wooden objects for the home at their studio in Vermont. Inspired by the beauty of their surroundings, this inventive husband-and-wife duo uses local, sustainably sourced wood to create designs for their company, Ironwood. Each creation features graphic, painted accents in colors borrowed from nature.

You can shop their coasters online by clicking here, or shop a wider selection of pieces at The Met Fifth Avenue.

Can you tell me a bit about your background in the arts?

BJ: I was raised in a household of artists and craftspeople. My folks, Fred and Judi Danforth, are the founders of Danforth Pewter, an established pewter company in Vermont. Engaging in creative activities and projects was as important and encouraged as eating dinner. The company was also like another sibling in the family! My sister and I would attend craft fairs in the ‘80s and ‘90s as well as participate in many discussions about the business! My first painting teacher was actually Josiah’s mom, Anne Cady, who is a wonderful oil painter here in Vermont. I then majored in studio art at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. I started out painting, but soon fell in love with printmaking and sculpture, specifically woodcarving and welding. After college I worked for Danforth Pewter and learned a deeper understanding of running a small-scale craft business. I moved on to become the manager/director of a new fine art gallery in the area, which was a wonderful experience curating and marketing arts and crafts alike. 

JJ: Growing up, I attended my mothers’ art classes, drawing, printmaking, and painting every day after school for many years. I developed an eye for beautiful things and appreciation for the natural world growing up in the mountains with gardens and animals. During my schooling years I was more focused on sports and skiing, hiking and being outside, though my foundation in the arts was still there. I took art classes all through school, and eventually my hands were drawn once again to making things. I took a few sculpture classes at the University of Vermont and found myself spending most of my time in the woodshop. I started turning wood, initially working in New Zealand, and a few years later I took a job in a cabinet shop.

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Ironwood’s graphic coaster set, available online at The Met Store

What inspired you to start Ironwood?

BJ: Ironwood was a result of a creative brainstorm and desire to be independent makers. As it turns out, Josiah and I have a very compatible set of creative skills. I started sketching out some product concepts with pencil and watercolor and we slowly started to make prototypes. Jo has a wonderful sculptor’s eye and is highly attuned to good proportions. So, with some back and forth, we developed some unique cutting boards to start out with. The development of our product line has really evolved from what we see a use and need for in our own home.

JJ: Bay was the real inspiration behind Ironwood. She was full of ideas and product designs and I was her 3D printer!

What interests you in making things by hand?

JJ: There are things that happen when you work a material with your hands that doesn’t happen when you rely on a computer and many machines. Slightly irregular shapes or unintentional initial mistakes have the opportunity to actually add to the final product, making it different than the rest.

BJ: I think it is in my DNA. I don’t think I would be able to do anything else and feel the same type of satisfaction. The tactile process of taking raw material and making it unfold into a functional item is so rewarding.

Vermont is known for its natural beauty. Does that play into your designs at all?

BJ: Yes! Whether consciously or not, the forms, colors, materials, and product designs all have an aesthetic that is inspired by living in Vermont. I often go into the woods at different times of the year and take a mental catalogue of the colors that I see. Inspired by the mountains and the rocky formations, the rivers and woods, the clay-paint geometric shapes that adorn our designs are a simplified reflection of those natural elements. Using wood as our base material is also an outcome of what is readily available to us.

JJ: We live here for family and community, and the natural beauty is definitely a must-have for us. Vermont has wonderful forest culture that we are part of, the working landscape adds a lot to our identity here in Vermont.

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One of Ironwood’s walnut cutting boards, available at The Met Fifth Avenue in an assortment of colors.

What do you like about working with wood?

JJ: Planting trees!

BJ: The wood we use is FSC (Forest Stewardship Certified), which means that trees are planted as they are harvested and they are selected based on growth size, not clear cut, and primarily locally sourced. We don’t have to travel far to get our raw materials, as there are a few sawmills in town that we purchase all of our material from. There is also a wonderful sense of discovery with wood. There is a process of revealing the grain of the wood as we process it from raw lumber to its final product; this added element is intriguing and makes for unique items. 

Are your designs inspired by any specific movement, period, or piece of art?

BJ: Not intentionally, though several people have mentioned that they have a Scandinavian aesthetic to them. If there is a connection, it is one that is intuitive and not deliberate!

Have you been to The Met? If so, would love to hear about a favorite gallery, visit, or exhibition that is meaningful to you.

BJ: I have been to The Met, though it has been years, unfortunately. What does stand out in my mind is the building itself, and the feeling of being in a space with the smell, sound, and sight of masterful creations. 

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