Joe Kennedy puts down his sanding block and runs his hand along the wood grain of the iroko door perched atop his workbench. With its clean lines and very evident heft, it wouldn’t disgrace a hall in Middle Earth or King’s Landing.
“There’s an old saying that you ‘look with your fingertips’ when it comes to working with wood, and that is absolutely true,” says Joe, his voice rising above the soundscape of industrial saws and air hoses of the joinery in Falmouth. “It is such a warm and tactile material; it’s right when it feels right.”
The 22-year-old Plymouth design graduate, who came to public attention in 2014 when one of his pieces was named best exhibit at the Young Furniture Makers Exhibition in London, has been fascinated by wood since the age of five. It’s a love he inherited from his grandfather, in whose company he spent many an hour as a boy, watching and learning as he crafted furniture in the family home in Penryn, Cornwall.
“He had no machines; everything was exactly the same as when he did his apprenticeship in the 1950s,” Joe says. “It was woodwork in its simplest form, and there is a great romance in that.”
That element of the traditional – both in terms of materials and craftsmanship – has permeated Joe’s art and work. And from his proud Cornish roots, so he’s begun to diversify through the range of influences he’s been exposed to.
“I’ve never lived more than three miles from Penryn, and much of my work expresses that I’m Cornish and I’m inspired by Cornwall,” Joe says. “But it was great to spend time at Plymouth – I was a sponge, soaking up the specialities of my teachers like Polly (Macpherson) and Roy (Tam). I learned to work with new materials like metal and plastics – I’d always found metalwork to be cold, but I learned from listening to others and I learned from doing and making mistakes.”