Dear Readers: In the first installment of this column I wrote that its purpose is to help us get to know many of the artists who live and work in our Rusk County “neighborhood.” So today let’s meet Sue and Clarence Anderson and their grandson, Jon Farber, a local family that creates beautiful art out of a material that is basic to the history and development of northern Wisconsin –wood.
About thirty years ago, Sue and Clarence Anderson were living on their dairy farm between Conrath and Sheldon, when as a hobby they began making and selling wooden toys, especially sheep. After the farm was taken over by their daughter and her husband, the Andersons moved to their current home on Highway 27, and began a wood working business. The couple made a variety of wooden items including toys, puzzles, vases, lamps and candles, which they sold at craft fairs around the country. Eventually they specialized in creating one-of-a-kind wooden boxes, which gave rise to their current business name, “Unique Boxes.” In recent years their grandson, Jon Farber, in addition to helping run the family farm, has begun working with the Andersons in their business.
According to Sue, each box made by the Andersons or grandson Jon comes from a single piece of wood. No patterns are used: the wood grain dictates the form of the finished product. Some boxes retain bark from the original piece, others are smooth, but all finished boxes have a natural, organic look. Boxes range in size from a 1×2 inch single drawer model to ones containing 14 or more drawers and measuring 16×7 inches. Most of the boxes made by both the Andersons and Jon have a surprise element–a small hidden compartment, which they say is very popular with potential buyers.
The Andersons travel extensively around the United States and while traveling often pick up interesting pieces of wood to later make into boxes. Each has his or her personal favorite: Clarence favors black walnut, Sue enjoys Chinese elm, and Jon prefers cherry wood. Sue says that customers will sometimes bring in a piece of wood that has personal meaning to them–usually something from their own property or family property, such as part of an old house beam – and ask to have a box made out of it. As long as they know how the box is to be used, so they can make correct measurements, Sue reports they are happy to do commissioned boxes.
While Jon does the entire box-making process himself, Sue and Clarence divide their labor. Clarence does rough cutting and sanding and gets the wood to a workable size, while Sue decides how the ends of each box should look, cuts out the drawers and knobs, and varnishes. Rather than lining the box drawers with felt, the Andersons and Jon first paint the drawer interiors and then blow fiber onto the wet paint, resulting in a smooth, seamless finish.
“Unique Boxes” is located at the Anderson home on N384 Hwy. 27, eleven miles south of Ladysmith, and just north of County D. While they don’t currently have a website, potential customers may call them at 715-532-6978 or visit their home workshop. Boxes by the Andersons and Jon Farber are also available at Toad House, 711 Lake Ave. W., in Ladysmith.