By Julian Emerson
EAU CLAIRE (AP) — Tim Brudnicki stared intently at the partially finished structure in front of him, thought for a moment as he envisioned the next step needed to build it, then said quietly “I think that will work.”
Brudnicki, the owner of Eau Claire Woodworks, was putting together a large custom wooden inventory display case in a high-ceilinged space at Ambient Inks, the Leader-Telegram reported. He carefully made his way through each step required to turn the blueprint in his mind into a finished product.
But for Brudnicki, his work is about more than function and form. He also envisions his labor as art, as a means of expression through wood. The mix of function and was evident as Brudnicki, working with two employees, continued his work for Ambient Inks. He took his best guess about the whereabouts of studs in the wall that he would anchor the shelves to, then drilled two holes to check. “Got ’em” he said with a smile.
A moment later his artistic side surfaced. He unfurled a tape measure, holding it at one side of the display case, then strode toward the other side of the structure to take a measurement. He pondered the work for a moment before discussing how he planned to alter his original design to give it a more attractive appearance.
“Of course there is the part of this that is about function, about designing and building what people want and about it working for their needs,” the 48-year-old Brudnicki said during a brief break from his work. “But I am an artist. I need to innovate and explore, to create and to bring out the best aspects of whatever wood I happen to be working with. Trying to do that, to find new ways to turn wood into something beautiful, I guess that’s what keeps me going with this.”
Brudnicki has won acclaim for his work, especially during the past year, when he saw his business expand quickly. He became involved with an effort to recycle ash trees in Eau Claire that were being cut down to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer. Another business Brudnicki is involved with, Tree Purpose of Eau Claire, is a result of that effort.
Brudnicki was subsequently hired to design furniture and other products, such as attractive desks and bar tops, for the Oxbow Hotel and The Lismore hotel. Last year his company designed more than 200 pieces of furniture for the Oxbow, including signature pieces for the hotel’s restaurant, the Lakely.
That project, Brudnicki said, had him scrambling to keep up with demand. It also served as a big boost to his business.
“The work at the Oxbow really was a catalyst to get my name out there more locally,” Brudnicki said, noting that before the hotel projects, the majority of his business was from out-of-town sales.
Since finishing his work at the hotels, Brudnicki continues to receive requests for projects, which range from small ones such as cribbage and cutting boards to bigger things like tables and headboards.
Business wasn’t always so good for Brudnicki. He and his wife, Christine, and the couple’s two boys moved to their current home in Rock Falls six years ago, coming from Milwaukee, where Brudnicki had once worked doing high-end carpentry and as a youth pastor.
Brudnicki struggled at first to get his business off the ground. At one point he was on the verge of giving up and trying to find other work. Then he designed a new product — two tables showcasing the attractive grain found in the woods he had selected.
Brudnicki drove to a shop in the tiny, artistic Pepin County village of Stockholm, where he sold his wares. He walked into the store with the tables and was quickly spotted by a woman who was perusing items inside. She bought the tables on the spot. Brudnicki figured he was onto something and built more of the tables that are part of the “River’s Edge” series.
They sold too, and his business grew.
Recently, Brudnicki sat behind a large “River’s Edge” table in the office of the workshop he built at his property last year, a building just 39 steps from his front door. Nearby, two company employees worked on projects as a table saw whined.
“I love that sound,” Brudnicki said, smiling. He marveled at the growth of his business, how Eau Claire has “wrapped its arms” around him and how fortunate he is to have a job doing what he loves. He discussed the importance of balancing business growth with family life. And he said he is eager to pay more attention to the artistic side of his work.
“Turning wood into works of art is something I have to offer,” he said. “Art is meant to be shared, and it feels most satisfying when I can make it and it can become a part of this community.”