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Artist of many interests; From Manhattan to Bungendore

David Mac Laren

For the first of a series of articles about people and events that contribute to the character of our region, I interviewed David Mac Laren, the owner of Bungendore Wood Works Gallery. We met in the easy comfort of the adjacent café. It mirrors the atmospheric lighting, art and woodwork of the gallery.

I found David to be an unassuming, quietly spoken man with a rich past and a wide range of interests. Of Scots ancestry, he grew up in Long Island, 40 minutes from New York City.

The three Cs of life – choice, confidence, and courage – are reflected in David’s life journey. After graduating from high school, he studied engineering at Yale University. While he experienced academic success, he felt a growing dissatisfaction with his course. In a bold move, David relocated to Australia and studied philosophy and literature at ANU. He graduated with an Arts Degree and with his focus fixed on a newly discovered passion – live theatre.

Aware that a life without passion is empty, David returned to New York City as a playwright. In this period of his life, he experienced success and satisfaction with a number of his plays produced at the Off-Off Broadway New York Theatre Ensemble, a collective of actors, directors and writers.

While working in theatre, the flourishing new styles in art, design and craft seized his interest and imagination. In particular, the new styles of woodwork and furniture design reflecting the philosophy of master craftsperson, George Nakashima. That work reflected the trend away from British and European woodwork design. It also reflected the rising wave of support for environmental issues that emerged in the 1960s and that is now to the forefront of 21st century consciousness.

Nakashima’s philosophy resonated with David. Inspired, he reinvented himself by training in the high craft of woodwork in a Manhattan gallery before becoming a member of a share workshop on the lower East Side. He found that his previous experiences in engineering and theatre converged in his passion for artistry in woodwork.

Readers who have visited the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery may recognise that convergence in the presentation of the artful work in the gallery when they reflect on the use of lighting and the application of design to setting and display.

The move to Bungendore

While there is no place like New York City for excitement, energy and commercial hustle, David feels that Australia gives artists of all persuasions the space, freedom, and quiet to dream and evolve in their respective fields. In the late 1970s, he immigrated to Australia and settled on one hundred acres in the Bungendore district.

When David first opened his Bungendore gallery in 1983, he travelled Australia widely, making contact with artisans and artists who boldly followed the career path less travelled. We discussed the impressive skill of woodworkers who transformed Australian hard woods, widely known to be the most testing of timbers. He speaks passionately about the need for a platform for the promotion of the arts and highly crafted woodwork in Australia.

As I toured the gallery, we found accord in our appreciation of the durability of solid wood furniture and products designed to last for generations. We also discussed the importance of the sustainability factor followed by craft people, users of ethical sources for their materials.

Like attracts like or so the saying goes. David values his long-standing relationships with his staff. He spoke at length about the contribution of Stan D’Argeavel, long-term employee and manager of the gallery’s upstairs art exhibits. Those exhibits not only promote the work of featured artists on sale but also provide a venue for others to appreciate, become inspired and learn about diverse artistic techniques.

Similarly, David values the culinary opportunities provided by Eric Dangerfield of the gallery café to his staff and customers as well as the showcase opportunities that Eric provides to musicians through regular musical events hosted at the café.

Legacy – to grow local arts precinct

When we discussed the future, while David saw a change in the degree of his day-to-day involvement in his gallery, he did not see a decrease in his commitment to it. His goal now is to extend the existing Bungendore Arts precinct.

We agreed that, irrespective of age, people need purpose in their lives, a reason to get up each day. David has succession plans under development to ensure his gallery continues as a space for woodworkers and other artists to display their diverse styles and designs in an environment that promotes fine artistry and that is grounded in commercial success.

By Christine M Knight

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