Working their own way

Last year, the guys of Vontundra could be seen looking dusty outside the garage or on the balcony of their apartment in a residential complex on North Albina Street. The debris from making wood furniture can do that.

Last year, the guys of Vontundra could be seen looking dusty outside the garage or on the balcony of their apartment in a residential complex on North Albina Street.

The debris from making wood furniture can do that.

Now, the artists who make up Vontundra Design Tailors share a massive workspace off of Powell, in a Southeast neighborhood where everyone seems to be working on something, from sawing out on their front porches to making new products, and art, inside one of the industrial buildings bordering the railroad tracks.

“We went from a 300 square-foot shop to 2,500 square feet,” said Vontundra member Chris Held, describing it as “a trade up in workspace but a trade down in living space,” because the building’s rent leaves them little funds for comfortable apartments.

“We all went to school together, and one of the instructors had just gotten that building,” explained Daniel Anderson of their former shared space in North Portland. “That’s his goal, to get artists to be living there and working out of the garages.”

Anderson went on to describe how the apartment served as a place for him and his friends, all recent graduates of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, to keep making art after graduation. Last fall, they continued that work by taking the big step of pooling all their resources into a large work studio for the company they formed together.

Vontundra is a furniture and design company held together by the dialogue its members developed during their time together at school. Its four compatriots, Daniel Anderson, Chris Held, Brian Pietrowski and Adam Blankinship, are all artists working privately. They are also partners in the design firm, sharing in the planning aspect as well as the grittier tasks of acquiring materials and building in the shop.

“We all started and finished school together,” Anderson said. “We understand each other and all had conversations, whether it was small talk or critiques. That’s been huge in our abilities to do what we’re doing now.”

“We’re not paying off student loans-more like paying off student interest,” Held piped in. Full-time tuition and fees at OCAC are $20,462 a year, but with room and board, health insurance and expenses for supplies, the estimate is $34,757. The only degree offered is a bachelor of fine arts in crafts, with concentrations in fields such as book arts, metals or wood, a program that Anderson and Held both described as “highly specialized.”

The Vontundra partners all studied woodworking and furniture making, but received training in painting and photography as well. They all spend time producing work for gallery shows when they can.

Since artists usually have several jobs to support themselves when they are not selling work, the Vontundra designers hope to use their own design company to support more personal creations. This plan gives them incredible artistic freedom, and a chance to produce work they believe in, for a less specialized audience than the art collector.

“We’re designing it, we’re making it, we’re setting our own schedule,” Held said. “It’s all up to us.”

Their current projects are surprisingly democratic for a group that shares such specialized skills. The projects include the resurrection of a classic aluminum trailer destined to become a smoothie cart on Hawthorne Boulevard and the redesign of an inn in rural Washington. They want to turn the hotel into something that will make both locals and destination travelers feel comfortable. Vontundra also has plans to remodel a private house with the intent of helping its residents enjoy the outdoors.

“I’m hoping these projects will showcase our wealth of abilities,” Anderson said.

He said that many of the projects are being done at cost or for a modest price, with large projects being commissioned by friends and relatives. Redesigning the inn, located in Eastern Washington, is a chance for Vontundra to keep broadening its design philosophy, which focuses on locality, individual touch and staying appropriate for the material and the user.

The group wants to do projects on a different scale, and for different types of people.

The inn, for example, is near Spokane, Wash., where Anderson grew up. The farmland is “where a lot of the world’s wheat comes from,” Anderson said. And though he wants the motel and restaurant to be a place even city people go to visit, “given that it’s a farming community, a kind of rural environment, we don’t want to do anything that will alienate people…. I think we have a pretty good understanding of how two crowds can intermingle.”

VontundraOn the Web: www.vontundra.comIn person: 3318 S.E. 16th Ave.

Also this week:

See thesis shows from Oregon College of Art and Craft students, opening Thursday, May 16, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. BFA students will show at Worksound PDX, 820 S.E. Alder St., and post-bac students will show at the Hoffman Gallery on the OCAC campus, 8245 S.W. Barnes Road.