RVW | Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works


Tools, glorious tools, of the like you’ve probably never seen before.

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Photo by Joe Felzman, via Museum of Contemporary Craft.


Quality is Contagious: John Economaki and Bridge City Tool Works

By Alanna Risse, MFA LRVS ’15

Tools, glorious tools, of the like you’ve probably never seen before. Museum of Contemporary Craft is currently home to display cases chock full of the sexiest curves and lines ever to grace a woodshop. The show is entitled Quality is Contagious, and features the designs of John Economaki, founder of Bridge City Tool Works. Inside the space of the Museum’s Upper Gallery you’ll encounter Economaki’s finely crafted wood furniture, wood working tools, some videos, and a fabulous book.

You probably won’t find John Economaki’s precision woodworking tools in your parent’s rusty tool shed. These beauties are works of art in and of themselves. But it’s odd to think that such creations might exist only through a bizarre twist of fate. In the 1970s and 80s, John Economaki was a skilled woodworker who’d thought he’d found his calling in fine furniture design and production, but who then had the rug pulled out from under him. After developing a severe allergy to wood dust, Economaki had to give up his medium of choice. After much soul searching, he went back to the drawing board and began rethinking the very tools he’d been using. Bridge City Tool Works was born. Economaki now applies the same intuitive design process to toolmaking that he learned through woodworking.

In Quality is Contagious, you’ll find some of Economaki’s early wood designs alongside displays of planes, gauges, jigs, Japanese saws, and precision measuring devices of every shape and size. Among the tool collection is Economaki’s pride and joy: the Jointmaker Pro. This contraption is a power-free table saw that utilizes Japanese pull saws for precision cuts and mitered corners. Any naysayers who told Economaki a thing couldn’t be done without power tools, shut their traps as soon as he demonstrated what this baby was capable of.

If you’ve got the time, sit down with the 204-page coffee table book that complements the show. There is a copy on display upstairs in the museum and copies available for sale downstairs in the Gallery Store ($95). The book, entitled Quality Is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman, is a collection of Economaki’s designs as photographed by his longtime friend and collaborator, photographer Joe Felzman. Alongside stunning photos are riveting stories and words of wisdom either from Economaki himself or from his own sources of inspiration. The book is gorgeous through and through.

Quality is Contagious, curated by Nicole Nathan and John Economaki, is on view at Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, through February 8, 2014.

by Alanna Risse, MFA LRVS '15
ALANNA RISSE '15 is an MFA candidate in the Low-Residency Visual Studies program.

— Posted on 09/27 at 02:54 PM

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