Ellis Bradley’s relationship with wood began early. “My dad put tools in my hands as soon as I could walk,” he says. “My family have been woodworkers, barn builders and farmers for 300 years. Now it’s all been left to me, that legacy. I grew up into it throughout my life; it’s not just work. Every day I can’t wait to get up and do what I do—it’s a gift, not a burden.”
As Sage Studios, he builds sculptures and sculptural furniture: coffee tables made of live edge single boards from trees that have naturally fallen, other special pieces. It was a commission—specifically, the counter at Tilda’s Kitchen and Marketplace—that brought Bradley into the Kingston circle, and he’s since relocated from Connecticut to Ulster County.
Relocating, for Sage Studios, is no simple task. “I have huge holdings in wood and tools that are within my family that are now in my charge because I’m the only one left right now,” he says. “Everyone else has moved on and passed on.There’s a 4,000 square foot warehouse full of tools and materials waiting to move up here to be plugged into the community in some positive way. This will take someone with very, very good business sense to help; this is much larger than I can handle. I mean, there are many tractor trailer trucks full of materials. I have antique barn beams. I have tens of thousands of feet of antique wood.”
What he would like to foster is a way to get some of that wood into the hands of Kingston (and otherwise local) youth, along with the teaching that came with learning to transform it into beautiful and useful things. “It was all left to me; not just the physical objects, but a kind of a legacy way of learning and a way of retaining that. It’s not just a job and then you retire. You don’t really do that, you grow up in it, not just in your biological family, but in the community, and it’s a skill that should be in every community. So part of the responsibility is teaching. I’d like to teach more extensively, especially young people, because right now it’s largely a missing component in our society. We need to pass these skills on to all the young people so that they can choose to do what they need to do with those skills—not just skills with tools, but the skills of discipline and patience.”
Bradley believes it’s a crucial moment in which humans have both a great need and a great opportunity to come together and heal. “We’re just beginning to comprehend the collective trauma of the last three years for all of us—and ask any parent, any teacher, about what it’s done to kids. But when people aren’t fully using their potential, finding their happiness, we can’t just blame and criticize. Let’s constructively build something else. Let’s identify what is missing. Kingston is exciting right now because there’s abundant creativity and potential, not just privilege and money. Let’s try and realign that and put the creativity and potential up front. Capitalism can be a good thing, but only if we modify it. We’re not going to call it capitalism anymore. We need to knock down the walls.”
Besides the barriers, educational and otherwise, that prevent everyone from reaping abundance, Bradley means the walls that have been built separating art, work and everyday life. “I’ve spent a lot of time in indigenous communities worldwide, visiting and making friends and learning; I’ve spent a lot of my life with indigenous folks and many of them have a very different understanding of what we’re talking about. They don’t have a separation of creativity and beauty that we call art. Everyone has something to give within a village, some creativity; every needed item or action can be a satisfying work when there’s genuine relatedness, reciprocity.”
Young people, he believes, desperately need more opportunities to exercise more than “just their thumbs” and experience the kind of skill building that leads to genuine self-satisfaction—that feeling he mentioned of being eager to get at the day’s endeavors. “Instead of trying to take a cell phone away from a young person, I’d like to offer them something that will inspire them to take themselves away from the cell phone to the passion of learning something that they haven’t learned, using their hands and their creative minds.”
Bradley believes Kingston is fertile ground for the kind of seeds of peace and prosperity he’d like to sow. “Besides teaching kids how to work with wood and tools and getting that going—in conjunction with that, would be to make it a cottage business for the kids. A lot of them are having a very difficult time finding a job, much less something that feels like a right livelihood. I know a lot about how to do this, and so do others. I’ve been involved in collectives for my whole life: collective galleries, collective work with other artists, collective community work; I’ve never left that outline from the 60s. And it wasn’t ours in the first place, my generation. This is as old as the hills.”
To see some work from Sage Studios or contact Bradley, you can go to sagestudiosonline.org—or, better yet, stop by Tilda’s, where the longtime Current member has multiple works on display.