A man with a 5-year plan

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Visitors to Michael McDunn’s shop in Greenville, S.C., enter into a gallery space, where his work is displayed alongside the sculpture, paintings and pottery of other artists. The serene setting surprises those expecting to see the sawdust flying.

Creating a high profile is serious business for McDunn and that impression starts with the outside of his building. The structure sits prominently on a knoll overlooking a major city street and at one end of the city’s artisan’s corridor. It has the clean look of gray stucco, and is enhanced by three oversized metal sculptures, which strike a commanding pose. The jumbo pillared signage of gray modular concrete announces in bold black letters “The Studio of Michael P. McDunn & McDunn Gallery of Fine Art”, and beckons “There’s something important here that you have to see. Come on in and take a look.”

Inside the gallery
It is an easy trek up the wood ramp and through the front door directly into the gallery. The “Open” sign is out and McDunn is there to greet. “I put in this gallery 11 years ago to raise awareness of my furniture and also spotlight the work of the many talented artists in the area,” explains McDunn. “I appreciate all forms of art, and gain inspiration from it.”

Michael McDunn

Owner of: Michael P. McDunn Studio/Gallery
Location: Greenville, S.C.
Employees: Two full-time, two part-time
Business size: 3,300-sq.-ft. shop; 900-sq.-ft. gallery
Affiliations: Greenville Woodworkers Guild (started by McDunn and four other woodworkers in 1981); American Crafts Council; Carolina Mountain Wood Turners; American Association of Wood Turners; Metropolitan Arts Council; Upstate Visual Arts; The Furniture Society; Southern Highlands Guild
A man with a plan: “One of the basic principles of running a business is to set goals and write them down — thus my five-year plan. I’ve found, over the years, that I didn’t move forward unless I was always asking myself where am I going and where do I want to be after a certain amount of time.”

The gallery is a breath of fresh air with a feng shui feel — uncluttered, serene, and geometrically pleasing to the eye. It is a testament to McDunn’s visual awareness and a validation of his keen business acumen. The works of art show against a palette of skillfully illuminated off-white walls composing the 900-sq.-ft. room. A red Dutch door on the left is the entrance to McDunn’s office and in front of that is a display case containing woodworking merchandise, including hand tools, turning instruments, chisels, stains and finishing products.

McDunn’s Biedermeier-style desk stands like a trophy up front and is a lead-in to the eclectic art collection. It is modeled after the solid, unpretentious, functional pieces common in Germany during the 1800s and is representative of his flawless, intricate woodworking techniques. Amboyna burl veneer, ebony pulls, inlays, and leather top tooled with 22-caret gold set it apart from common manufactured furniture.

Below the desk is a mahogany coffee table of single-board construction and wedged through tenons. Interspersed among pottery and paintings are two walnut Pembroke-style tables, willowy with slender, tapered legs and holly

inlays. A chestnut collectables cabinet and drop leaf table are down the line, one hand-rubbed with oil and the other coated with clear lacquer, which are McDunn’s typical methods for finishing his custom pieces.

Above his mahogany Mission-style dining table hangs an unusual display — a rack of martial arts bokken (swords). In 1996, the same year McDunn added his gallery, his oldest son convinced him to join the Aikido School of Self Defense. Since then he has used once- or twice-a-week training as exercise and a way to balance his life. As a woodcrafter, turning out wooden training weapons became inevitable. “I usually make 20 bokken at a time in three different styles and in various kinds of hardwood. They are handmade with a lot of attention to aesthetic quality and replicate the original metal swords used for centuries in Japan.”

McDunn’s weaponry sales represent about 1 percent of his total business.

Even more versatility and variety are revealed in McDunn’s portfolio. There are photographs of tables, chairs, beds, consoles, subwoofer cases, jewelry boxes, and a Dr. Scholl’s wood foot, which a marketing company commissioned for its “carving a niche for the ’90s” sock campaign. His “Winchester Coffin Table” was crafted for a longtime client, attorney David Ward, for whom he has done several pieces. “My wife and I bought some beautiful aged walnut at an estate auction and asked Michael to build something with it,” says Ward. “He came up with a great idea for a table with a coffin motif inlay on the skirt.” (The wood was originally meant for the coffin of D.D. Winchester, who died more than 100 years ago.) “Michael is a great artist. You just can’t buy anything comparable to what he can make.”