Nancy Romalov

"The Artful Bodger"
Iowa City, IA


Bodger: “This term was once common around the furniture-making town of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, between London and Oxford. Bodgers were highly skilled itinerant wood-turners, who worked in the beech woods on the chalk hills of the Chilterns. They cut timber and converted it into chair legs by turning it on a pole lathe, an ancient and very simple tool that uses the spring of a bent sapling to help run it. Their equipment was so easy to move and set up that it was easier to go to the timber and work it there than to transport it to a workshop. The completed chair legs were sold to furniture factories to be married with other chair parts made in the workshop.”

The word also shares a history with the verb “to botch” — but that came later … meanwhile, MY history as a bodger (and sometime “botcher”) …

Having spent the greater part of my adult life exercising the left side of my brain–I received a PhD in American Studies at the University of Iowa and have taught at various colleges for the past 20 years–I decided several years ago it was time to strike a balance. I began to pursue a long-time interest in woodworking and have since been laboring toward a total career shift. With any luck, I’ll have achieved that shift before I reach retirement age.

I have the great good fortune of being able to spend part of the year on an island in the middle of a large lake in western Montana. It was here I began honing my woodworking passion, beginning with furnishing a simple cabin with the basic necessities, and growing from there with my mostly self-taught skills. As the island has no electricity, when there, I work entirely with hand tools, working mostly on a shaving horse, using various kinds of spoke shaves and hand planes. (a true bodger!). The music stands I create are examples of this “off-the-grid” method. As much as possible, I choose to use native, local and recycled woods.

Back in Iowa, I spent three interesting months learning the basics of fine furniture making at the Maharishi School of Management in Fairfield, and from there landed at the woodworking shop of three very gifted furniture makers who have continued to mentor me. Years have passed, yet work still feels like play; I hope this sense of playfulness and joy is evident in all my pieces. I do custom work of all kinds and can be reached at my studio in Iowa City, Iowa.

-- Nancy Romalov