The Illinois Artisans Program focuses national attention on the rich heritage of the fine crafting that exists in Illinois. Our juried artists participate in art sprees, craft festivals, exhibitions and other events held at our locations in order to promote their work.


The Tree Transformed: From Trunk to Table


Artisan Interview: Roger Grimes, Chicago, IL

Sitting down to interview Chicago artisan Roger Grimes in his home, Grimes starts in by pointing out the table we gathered around:

“This is the table of my dreams. It must have been a tremendous walnut”

Grimes constructed the table from a 300 or 400 year old walnut tree recovered from a river bead revealed as the water changed directions, that ended up in a warehouse in the 60’s. For Roger Grimes the story behind each piece of wood and the natural beauty found within is why he creates furniture and why conservation is at the heart of Grimes’ story.


While some artists design furniture then find a piece of wood to create it, Roger Grimes approaches work from a complete opposite philosophy

“The beauty is there in the material. My intent is to allow that to show through. I am not making it beautiful. Open the envelope and let it show through.” Grimes makes one piece at a time, and every piece is “dictated by what the wood looks like, by keeping the imperfections. It is a matter of what is the best way to show it off. It’s not like I am the artist, the wood is the artist.”

The result is bold furniture that celebrates even the smallest imperfections, inclusions, knots or flaws. Grimes takes inspiration from the work of George Nakashima, the Japanese-American woodworker who challenged use of wood in the 40’s exploring organic expression. Roger Grimes’ philosophical approach to furniture also derives from his family history and connection to conservation.


Roger Grimes’ parents, a lawyer and musician, decided to move their family from the city to a farm in Marshall County Iowa to instill the values of the farm in their children. Shortly after the move, they began planting trees and became very interested in best practices, erosion control, and reclaiming land for prairie.

Over 50 years, the family planted 200,000 trees and transformed poor quality farm land back into Iowa wild land. Wanting to give back the community, the Grimes’ family gave 160 acres back to the county to house the Marshall County Conservation Commission, and ultimately the Grimes Farm Conservation Center was created. The Grimes family is still deeply connected to the programming and encouraging best practices in farming, they even host a 5k run on their farm every year.

From those experiences on the farm, Roger Grimes became both a passionate environmentalist which evolved into becoming a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency for almost 30 years.

“I was busy protecting the environment. We were there to do the right thing for the environment.”All the while, Grimes continued a craft that allowed him to stay connected to a physical material and to the farm. “Woodworking was a way to keep connected…all the way from the nursery, growing them, to the saw mill.”


Eventually Grimes started working on larger pieces and his process is very collaborative. During the construction phase Grimes whose workshop is in his home will take criticism and advice from students learning from him or his wife Emily, a professional photographer.

Emily Grimes describes that humility “Roger is so open about his work. He will ask for opinions if it doesn’t feel just right.” Roger Grimes describes building a table recently and asking “Are these legs too long?”  Open dialog and discussion around his work is a humble approach to fine craft for such an accomplished artisan. But Roger Grimes is focused on letting the beauty of the wood shine through, a perfect complement to his commitment to conservation.


Roger Grimes’ furniture will be on display at the Illinois Artisans, Chicago this June 2013. Meet Roger Grimes at the Father’s Day Art Spree: June Art Spree, June 13th & 14th, to discuss his work and see the beauty of the pieces in person.