Jeanette Pierce - Woodworker
Strong and steady, sure and gentle, her hands tell a story about molding, shaping and smoothing rough edges. As a woodworking artist, Jeanette Pierce spends hours in her shop off Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, creating art from all kinds of shapes and sizes of wood found in and around the Suwanee area. A local living legacy, Jeanette has also shaped, molded and smoothed out some rough edges on “her kids,” which can mean any one of her hundreds of students who still come to see her and sometimes bring her wood or other objects for working.
On this cold, dreary January afternoon, this spunky creator of wood bowls, charcuterie boards, pens and more, is “truing up” a piece of wood with her medium sized lathe. With sawdust flying, Jeanette explains her particular woodworking form, which enlists the help of many senses.
“I know a piece is done when it feels like it’s about to break. It has this hollow sound.” She taps the bowl and is satisfied with her work. She can move on to the next step of staining the raw wood, which brings her work to its completed form. What was once a branch on the ground is now a creation.
With her hair clipped up and wearing a bright red apron, Jeanette brings a feminine touch to the chaos-filled room, where she is in her element. She continues her story in her thick, charming, southern drawl and bright, winsome smile.
Photo credits: Chris Anderson @chrisandersonphotography on Instagram
“We all helped daddy! He was a carpenter and built houses and me and Jimmy would just ask what needed to be done and daddy would put us to work. One day I told daddy I wanted to do wood working and he started showing me how. But my Uncle, John Pierce, was the one who taught me how to turn the wood after I retired from teaching six years ago.”
Jeanette’s father, David Pierce, Sr., is the son of George Pierce, as in George Pierce Park, where, ironically, she often finds her prized pieces of wood. Pop, as they called her grandfather, was also the owner of a men’s clothing store, which we now know as Pierces Corner. It is also the place where her father first laid eyes on his future wife, Ruby Burnette, the namesake of Burnette Elementary School and the aunt of Suwanee’s current mayor, Jimmy Burnette, Jeanette’s first cousin.
Moving from the lathe, we work our way over to the pen station where hollowed out finished pieces await ink cartridges - some solid, some patterned. Jeanette explains she makes the patterned ones from using different colors of wood, stacked and glued together, then cut down into pieces small enough to fit on her smallest lathe. She even makes pens from stacked colored pencils, glued together and at a slant, for a whimsical, colorful look.
She keeps about three projects going at the same time, for variety’s sake. Her favorite wood to work is burled wood or wood that has become infested with insects, ants or worm holes. She pulls out a slab of yellowed wood and runs her smooth palm over the sanded surface. With the bark still edging it, she says, “I had to research this piece. I think it’s a locust tree, but it needs to just sit a while.” I ask how long a while is and she looks at me with mischievous eyes and says, “I just know when it’s right for workin.”
On my way out, I see the entry is filled with finished pieces, on their way to either their owners, or to the North Gwinnett Arts Association’s (NGAA) Gallery in Suwanee Town Center. “Caron,” referring to Caron Burnette, Suwanee’s First Lady, “was the one that really got me selling my work. She told me it was art, but I didn’t think it was. She kept after me and finally talked me into putting a few pieces at the (NGAA) gallery. People started buying my work and, all of a sudden I had a business.”
Outside the fog is creating an early darkness, but Jeanette wants to finish a few pieces before leaving. She will stay in the shop for a couple of more hours, surrounded by her tools, sawdust, varnish and lots of wood. Like her creations, she just knows when it’s time to finish.