By Joey Mendolia
BU News Service
“We make a living off of diseased and rotting wood, and it’s great,” said Michele Jurado, co-owner of Peterman’s Boards and Bowls.
Spencer Peterman sees art where others see deterioration. His ability to turn old, rotted, and fungus-filled logs into elegant sets of bowls, cutting boards and a selection of other products, has caught the attention of home décor retailers such as Dean and Deluca, Calvin Klein and Sue Fisher King. But it’s his natural process and local Massachusetts credentials that make Peterman’s Boards and Bowls a vendor worth visiting at the Boston Public Market.
Spencer Peterman is originally from Seattle, where he comes from an agricultural and craftsmanship background. “He found his niche around his 30s or 40s,” said Jurado. A ceramicist, she started working with Peterman in 2006. “Spencer started out making Nantucket baskets actually. What happened was, the Chinese market came in and they started making very inexpensive Nantucket baskets. So it became harder and harder for him to sell baskets.”
In 2011, competition forced Peterman to incorporate other wooden products into his work. With help from a machinist friend, he built his own lathe, an ancient tool used for shaping the material being worked with. Instead of only being able to create one bowl at a time, as most lathes allow for, Peterman’s can produce an entire set depending on the diameter of the log.
“The log comes in, we cut it big. We cut the length of each log, lets say about 24 inches, then we cut it in half horizontally,” said Jurado. “With the lathe, he can actually get a set of bowls with half a log.”
Peterman’s most popular creations are his Spalted Maple and Ambrosia products. The boards and bowls themselves typically run from $50 to $880, based on size and material.
“Spalted wood has a fungus that grows in trees that have been laying on the ground for a while. It creates an incredible marking. Ambrosia is a beetle. It creates a figure when it crawls into the wood. You’ll see these tiny pinholes,” explained Jurado.
Peterman’s meticulous process has as much to do with the beauty of his pieces as does the work of nature itself. Following the formation of the bowl or board with the lathe, they are placed in a dry kiln. Then they are transferred to containers that dry them to a humidity level of six percent. Once dry, the products are sanded and finished with a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax. The mineral oil keeps the wood healthy, and the beeswax locks the oil’s moisture in.
Peterman’s Boards and Bowls was among the original vendors at the Boston Public Market’s grand opening in 2011. “We feel so honored to be there,” said Jurado. “We weren’t sure if we were going to get in or not because we don’t sell food.” Four years later, Peterman’s still occupies spot 38 on the Hanover Street side of the Market.