Twenty years ago, Tony Kubalak only dreamed about building period furniture worthy of an award. Now he’s the recipient of the 2020 Cartouche Award from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.
“I knew I was in the running, but this is a surprise. It’s humbling for sure and I have to pinch myself a little. My instructor was one of the early recipients of it and now I’m on the same page as him,” says Kubalak, referring to Gene Landon, the 2003 winner.
Kubalak will receive the award at the Working Wood in the 18th Century conference in Williamsburg, Va. on Jan. 17.
Kubalak specializes in Queen Anne and Chippendale pieces. He came to woodworking in the mid 80’s after seeing a Newport six-shell secretary in a magazine. He learned the basic skills on his own then began taking classes with Landon at the Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe in York, Pa. in 1999, traveling from his Midwest home several times a year.
“I never thought I’d be able to do it, especially the carving because I thought you had to be an artist to do that. When I met Gene that changed, and I realized over time that the carving was learned. I realized you don’t have to be Michelangelo to do this, and that was quite liberating,” says Kubalak.
Kubalak has won numerous awards at the Minnesota Woodworker’s Guild’s annual Northern Woods Show. He was listed for nine consecutive years in Early American Life’s Directory of Traditional American Crafts. He has written two books – Carving 18th Century Furniture Elements and Carving 18th Century Motifs – and is working on third about building a Chippendale dressing table.
Hoping to give back for the guidance he’s received from his peers, Kubalak recently started teaching. He says with a little persistence and dedication, combined with inspiration and mentorship, almost any student can develop the skills to produce quality work.
“If I can do this, a lot of people can,” he says. “I recognize people think they can’t do it but I’m here to tell you that with the right persistence and being willing to make some mistakes and try again, and get over some of the frustrations of failing at it, you can make some decent progress because I’m living proof of that.”
For more, visit www.tonykubalak.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue.