MOUNT VERNON — After working full time for more than two years to restore a former Odd Fellows Hall, a Dutch woodworker opened his gallery to the public for the first time Saturday in the century-old building at the edge of Minnehonk Lake.
The small gallery space has several shelfs and tables, some with pictures of creatures carved into the wood, that Erik Groenhout built after completing his workshop in the theater of the Odd Fellows building on Pond Road.
“I’m not a designer that wants to make designs that are only pieces of art and the user can’t influence, use it. I want to make art that is usable for people,” Groenhout said. “Art for the sake of art is great, but it’s not for me. I like art that is integrated.”
The pieces currently in the gallery, Green’s Wood Art, are prototypes and not for sale. In the future, Groenhout, 56, will have more to sell and will be able to build custom pieces based on the examples in the gallery, but he hasn’t had enough time to build more yet. He makes his pieces out of local wood, such as ash, birch, oak and pine, and uses natural oils to finish them.
Groenhout, his wife, Rachel, and their two young daughters moved to Maine from Amsterdam in August 2011, but they had been living with his wife’s parents in their home in Winthrop while renovating the living area in the building. They moved into the finished lower floor in June 2013, he said.
The restoration of the gallery room is complete, but the large third floor hall where the fraternal organization had conducted its ceremonies is still untouched. The paint on all the walls is peeling, and the ceiling is falling apart.
“This is about how I found the building,” Groenhout said, as he walked into the third floor hall from the gallery. “You can see, there is still a lot of work to do.”
He doesn’t yet have a plan for the upstairs hall, but he is considering renting it out to dance or art classes once it’s finished. He doesn’t know when that will be. Just drywalling the ceiling will cost around $10,000, so Groenhout is waiting to sell more of his furniture before moving forward with more renovations.
He does plan on restoring all of the buildings’ 68 windows in the meantime.
Groenhout, who said he did around 85 to 90 percent of the restoration work, built a boxed-in room inside the building’s theater for his woodworking machines. He built the insulated room-within-a-room for both a noise barrier between the machines and his neighbors and to allow him to heat his workspace during the winter.
Besides the basement floor with the living area, he won’t be heating the building during the winter because it would be impractical and prohibitively expensive. Groenhout has an electric heater in his machine workroom, and he said he’ll do all of his work there during the winter.
His studio outside the boxed-in machine room is covered with stacked wood planks, many still with the bark attached. Groenhout had several extra electric outlets installed to allow him to possibly hold woodworking classes in the theater studio eventually.
Groenhout taught for more than 27 years at HMC, a four-year woodworking college in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Netherlands before moving to Maine.
He said he tried keeping parts of the building as they were built whenever possible. To accommodate the heavy weight of the woodworking machines in his studio, Groenhout had to build additional supporting beams in the living area. Two of the original beams in the living room were behind a wall, so he left those unpainted while the new beams were painted a bright red.
“I love this building,” Groenhout said from the living area overlooking Minnehonk Lake. “It’s a beautiful building, and it’s untouched. It’s in a great spot. I think it’s unique in Maine, so it should stay untouched.”