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The Queue: Jeff Neil

The Queue: Jeff Neil

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Jeff Neil

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Jeff Neil in his Tennessee workshop. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jeff Neil in his Tennessee workshop. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jeff Neil’s elegant wooden boxes draw on two heritage craft traditions.
The oval Shaker box, that classic American craft form, has been reproduced by woodworkers for centuries. Jeff Neil, who first started working with wood in the early 1980s after taking an adult education class, makes Shaker boxes, trays, and rectangular jewelry boxes in a range of sizes that incorporate early American quilt designs. Inspired by his wife’s quilting hobby, the traditional designs are crafted from thin wood veneer in a variety of wood species. Like the Shakers, Neil makes his boxes with practicality in mind. His work is featured in “To Have and to Hold,” a roundup of keepsake boxes in the Fall 2023 issue of American Craft.

https://www.southernhighlandguild.org/artist/jeffreyneil/

Three quilt-top Shaker boxes by Jeff Neil, each 2.75 x 7.5 x 5 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Three quilt-top Shaker boxes by Jeff Neil, each 2.75 x 7.5 x 5 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I am just a person who enjoys making nice-looking but useful boxes in my basement workshop in Tennessee, striving to improve my designs and skills along the way.

Tell us about the first piece of craft that captivated you. What about it drew you in?
I remember a small box I spotted in a craft shop in Maine decades ago. It had a tambour top that opened automatically to reveal a shelf when the drawer below it was opened. I finally made a few recently, based on articles in Fine Woodworking and Woodworker’s Journal.

What do you like to store in your Shaker boxes? What uses do you envision when you make them?
Like the Shaker craftsmen, I use small boxes to hold tacks and pegs used to assemble the boxes. My wife likes to store hand-sewing supplies in a covered box to keep loose items away from curious cats. I hope all my boxes are used and not just for display.

What is your favorite tool in your tool kit, and how do you use it?
The tool I love to use is a Lie-Nielsen block plane. I use it on every Shaker box to flush the bent outer bands to the fitted tops and bottoms. It’s developed a wonderful patina over the years. That small plane is a joy to use.

 

If you could have work from any contemporary woodworker for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
For years, my wife and I desired a handcrafted Windsor chair made by Curtis Buchanan of Jonesborough, Tennessee. His attention to all the small details is fantastic. I am happy to say we finally treated ourselves to a modern-design Windsor chair custom fitted just for us.

Which craft artists, exhibitions, events, or schools do you think the world should know about, and why?
The Southern Highland Craft Guild in Asheville, North Carolina, and Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee, are wonderful resources for those interested in fine craft and craft education. Each has retail gallery space and exhibition areas. They both also have online shops for those outside of the Asheville area.

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