From Little Rock, it’s a two-hour drive to Lake Village, Arkansas, a farm town in southeast Arkansas that’s home to the Paul Michael Company. Photo by Ashlee Nobel
It’s a cold February day. The sky is gray, and the fields are flooded. A train cuts across the flat land, and we pass time talking about the graffiti on the train cars. We also wonder aloud what Paul Michael will show us on this trip. Maybe it’s a new painting or a few new Paul Michael Exclusives, original pieces of furniture handmade in his woodshop in Dermott, Arkansas. The woodshop is where we’re headed, but first we meet Paul for lunch at his favorite sandwich shop, the Amish & Country Store.
The sign out front says: Pecans Banana Bread Fried Pies. Inside, it smells like fresh baked bread. We order the Paul Michael Special and wait for him to arrive.
When he sits down at the table, there’s blue paint on his hands. He’s been working on something. Turns out, it could either be from a canvas or from a set of French Colonial doors, a special project for Vincent Peach, a vendor at Market Hill. At the fall show, Vincent produced a drawing of a showroom, like the true artist he is. Paul redrew it to accommodate the raw materials that were available to him, an example of his ability to create on command, taking inspiration from others.
“I went out that day and found the doors in Round Top,” Paul says. “Where else are you going to find 12 matching doors like that?”
“It’s magic. There is this happiness,” he says of Round Top. “It’s like a vacation for me. People come from all over the world ... [At Market Hill,] we have people from California, Santa Fe, New York, Chicago, Miami. If you have a high-end boutique, it’s where you go, but everybody leaves pretension at home.”
Paul will return to Round Top next week, he tells us, to install Vincent Peach’s booth.
“My opinion of architecture is my opinion on design,” he says, “it has to be functional.”
“So many times you see an interior, like in a design magazine, and you get the feeling, ‘It looks okay in the magazine, but would I want to live there? Can I put a cup of coffee on the coffee table?’ You get the feeling it’s for people who don’t know how to live. It’s the same conversation that relates to architecture, so many times the emphasis is on how it looks from the street, but, in reality, it’s built out of plywood and cheap carpet, and it doesn’t last. You have to ask, ‘Who are you trying to impress?’ The first person you want to impress is yourself,” he says.
On designing and building Market Hill, Paul says, “I wanted to impress the vendors. I wanted to keep them dry. Keep their merchandise dry. Give them a place to load and unload their stuff. If I have a facility that provides for their needs, I would have a chance to attract the very best vendors. Everybody wants the best vendors; why would they come to me? Because this building is functional.”
“I believe in what’s real. A place you can be inspired, relaxed, where you can entertain, eat, drink and rest.”
As for what he is bringing to Market Hill, Paul says he spent six weeks on the road with trips to Dallas, Atlanta, Vegas and Tucson. In Tucson, he bought an entire lot of 52 slices of black petrified wood. He decided to make small tables with them, pairing the petrified wood with natural wood. He engineered a prototype but didn’t like it. He says they are reworking the design at the shop.
He tells us of large, spear-pointed crystals he also found. “From South America. Brazil. Phenomenal crystals on these metal bases that were ugly and unworthy of the crystals.” He describes his plan to remount them. With that, he says, “let’s go to the shop, so you can see them.” It’s just a few minutes’ drive to the woodshop where the shop cat, Paloma, greets us outside. We arrive to the sound of saws and smell of sawdust. In every corner of the shop, there is industry, purpose and focus with multiple projects happening all at once. This is where the magic happens.
Paul leads us to the crystals in the metal bases. It appears he bought the whole lot of them. There are rows upon rows of quartz crystals of all sizes on two long tables. His top welder and metal worker is in the act of hand-fitting each individual component to create new bases worthy of the crystals. “Every piece has to be hand fit,” Paul says.
We walk through the shop and see additional projects underway, including Vincent Peach’s doors, 12 of them, some drying, some in the process of being painted “Cathedral Stone,” a pretty blueish gray.
There’s a boulder atop Lucite. He calls it the “Flintstone table.” When asked where the rock comes from, he says, “northwest Arkansas” … and what kind of rock it is, “the kind that comes out of the side of a mountain,” he laughs. He tells us he was on his way to look at a deer camp when he saw the boulders and bought two truckloads of them.
Another piece Paul is proud to show us is an ottoman made of wood. “I was in the Apple Store, and I saw an ottoman I liked, and I thought I could make one better than that.” Like the inspiration piece, his version is essentially a wooden box with a slight indention on the seat and open in the middle. Inside, he stuffs a black sheep’s wool poof. “It’s for people without a lot of room. You pull it out, and now you have two seats instead of one,” he says.
For Paul, inspiration can come from anywhere. “I don’t think any artist came up with their own original idea. It was inspired by something. Creativity happens when you have collaboration and outside influences.”
And yet many of the pieces in the shop, Paul comes up with on the spot, and this is where the real magic happens. An example of this is a large clamshell from China, which Paul says he’s had for 12 years, and now has an idea for it. The clamshell, weighing some 300 pounds, is rolled out on a dolly. His son, Jake, and right-hand man Salvador lift it to its resting place atop two vertical slabs of reef from Indonesia. Paul stands back as the men adjust the piece to the precise angle, the proper form.
“It’s all about form,” Paul says. “When something is in form, you know it. It’s natural to you. When it doesn’t look right, it’s wrong. A curious part, it’s almost a universal and uniform acceptance of what is right. When it’s wrong, everybody has an opinion of why it’s wrong, because you look at its various parts. Everybody agrees when it’s right, because you see it as a whole.” The piece is adjusted, just right, and he says, “That is powerful. This is what I live for.”
When asked how he comes up with this stuff, Paul says, “Sal came up with a way to cut the bottom off of it. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have used it. Could I have done that without him? No. It was collaboration.”
Paul’s phone rings, and he takes the call. It’s his friend, Craig, and he says, “You better come down to the shop. We’re doing something pretty amazing.”
“We’re just like children,” he says. “Do you see the glee? This is what we do for fun.”
It is fun to be in the shop, to be in the presence of pure joy, creativity, hard work, imagination, experimentation and play. The magic comes from Paul and his team – the woodshop is where the magic happens as it goes from brain to build, draft to design. And Market Hill is where magic comes together, the people and the pieces, under one roof.