Jessica Wickham called it a humbling and astonishing experience after her small shop, Wickham Solid Wood Studio, in Beacon, N.Y., won a business excellence award in October from the Dutchess County Economic Development Corp.
“I got the sense that they haven’t given many awards to makers in the past. They usually go to conventional businesses,” says Wickham.
But the community leaders who give out the award were impressed by Wickham’s marketing plan built around using locally harvested woods and her eagerness to take advantage of networking opportunities.
“The basis of my business is that we salvage logs from the area, so I made a lot of comments in my [acceptance] speech that we live in an amazing hardwood forest in the Northeast and you don’t really think about it or see it anymore, but you can find remnants of it.”
Wickham, who once worked on Wall Street, started her furniture-making business in 2004. “I’ve invested everything in this business so I plan to do it for the next 30 years. This is the first business that I’ve owned. It’s not a job for me. This really is a form of expression. I position myself somewhere between sculpture and cabinetmaking.”
As her business grew to a high of three employees, Wickham was active with the Dutchess County economic group and learned that the Beacon area has an active arts community that engages in lots of networking and collaboration projects. She joined the city’s “Made in Beacon” program, which helps artisan-manufacturer types secure work in local establishments.
“I got connected to Susan Batton, who’s the managing director at Dia:Beacon, a big institution in the area with a major art collection. She instantly became a fan and ordered a dining room table for herself. She ended up nominating me. She told me that my impact on the community impressed the committee as a business and that they want my services for future needs.”
Wickham mills locally harvested black walnut, white oak and black cherry for her work. Her designs often incorporate the natural edge of the tree, which she describes as in line with Nakashima’s work. She admits it can be difficult to find the kinds of clients that appreciate her work.
“It’s a very narrow market that I do and it’s been a real roller coaster in this economy, but the successes have been fantastic. I’ve had some great projects in the last year. We’ve been steadily busy for the past year, but it’s definitely challenging.”
Contact: Wickham Solid Wood Studio, 578 Main St., Beacon, NY 12508. Tel: 917-797-9247. www.jessicawickham.com
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.