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Every night—if I want to get any sleep—I have to climb a ladder. 

I am not Rapunzel. I just sleep in the loft of my cottage. Descending while half-awake in the morning might seem treacherous, but the ladder I climb is a sturdy work of art. It’s the color of cherries and honey, the rungs curved and sanded smooth. 

One rainy November morning, I visited the place my ladder was made: a workshop in downtown Bishop, presided over by the artist Steve White. 

The ceilings in the shop soar, and the air smells of sawdust. Steve greeted me in work overalls. He paused in sanding the legs of a dining room table, a special order for a customer in Reno. 

For twenty years, Steve White has been creating furniture and smaller works of art here in Bishop. IKEA can take a hike. You won’t find pieces like Steve’s curved dressers, stools, rocking chairs, and mirrors anywhere else, in part because of the way the Eastern Sierra landscape plays into his work. A coat hanger carved in the shape of the Sierra crest hangs in my dad’s house, and a gleaming coffee table sits in mine, its corners peppered with little round holes. The design gives the table personality, and I love the story—the round “bubbles” are inspired by ice skating in the high country. “These are the air bubbles you find in frozen lakes,” Steve said, “all different sizes, nested together.”

As a kid, Steve was always building boats and tree houses. He went to engineering school and worked for NASA for three years, but the job was mostly design and not enough building, so Steve went into business for himself. As a carpenter and woodworker, he did additions and remodels, which lead him to design wooden staircases. “I got into curved stairs and spiral staircases,” he said, “and I just ran with that for about ten years, because it combined my knowledge of math—trigonometry—with my ideas for curved shapes.” 

In Steve’s shop, I got to learn about mortise and tenons, the sneaky components you never see that keep your dining room table from tipping over. “There are definitely structural considerations when you make furniture,” Steve explained. “You need this piece to be thick enough that it doesn’t bend, but not so thick that it looks clunky. A table needs a sturdy base so the top doesn’t tip.”   

I learned about different types of wood. Pine, it turns out, is not that exciting. Elm is hard on tools. “I’m spending so much time on the labor of a piece that I want really beautiful figured wood, with lots of grain to it,” Steve said. His favorite woods are cherry, maple, and walnut.” The tall, fragrant planks that lean against the shop walls might end up as a table top, the drawers of a dresser. 

Steve showed me zebra wood from Africa, which looks just the way it sounds, and planks of spalted maple, a pale wood etched with fine black lines, carved into the tree by fungus. “Sometimes they leave the wood on the ground on purpose and let the fungus get in it,” Steve said. “Some places think it’s garbage, and they give it away as junk.” 

Rewind two decades, and Steve is making wooden staircases in the Bay. “It was going along really well—and then we moved to Bishop.” Oofta. Moving to Bishop can be, as many of us know, a blow to a career. Yet even as a kid in Pennsylvania, Steve hung posters of Rocky Mountain peaks on his bedroom walls. He knew he wanted to live near mountains.

What landed Steve and his wife Sarah in Bishop, instead of some place like Tahoe or Mammoth? Sarah wanted to have a garden. (Thank you, Sierra snowmelt.) 

“At first I thought, geez, that’s a really hot place,” Steve said. “But okay, let’s do it!” 

That was twenty years ago. “I’m really glad,” he says now. “We couldn’t have made a better choice. The mountains here are great and I expected that, but I didn’t expect the sense of community. There’s a really great community here in Bishop. It’s a real place.” 

This real place isn’t the easiest for woodworking, however. Steve can’t get lumber in the Eastern Sierra—he has to haul it from San Francisco on the rack of his pickup. Shipping is tricky, too, since his furniture needs to be wrapped in blankets. But Steve says it’s worth it. “I didn’t do my career any favors by moving over here, to the middle of nowhere,” he said. “But for me it was more important to have the lifestyle, and then figure out the work.” 

Perhaps the very challenges posed by the Eastern Sierra contribute to the sense of community that keeps Steve hauling all that lumber. Here, we all have something in common: our relationship to the landscape, no matter how we might articulate that differently. The isolation and extremity of our environment serves as an automatic icebreaker.  

“That’s why so many people care about this place,” Steve said. “Because it’s rare.” 

Impressively, about half of Steve’s customers are local, and most of them are repeat. “Bishop is not a wealthy community in general, so I’m appreciative of all the customers I’ve had,” he said.   

The three-dimensionality of the Eastern Sierra landscape feeds Steve’s aesthetic sensibility, and the landscape works into his pieces in surprising ways, from cattail wall hangings to glass-topped tables counterweighted by eighty-pound granite boulders. 

For customers looking for something smaller, Steve builds ski hangers, clocks, Sierra crest coat hangers, and tabletop art made from sedimentary rock and pinecones. “I like curves. And nature is pretty much curves,” Steve said. 

I wondered what Steve’s art might look like, had he been working for twenty years someplace else. We decided this was unimaginable. 

“A lot of my inspiration comes from within myself, but I’m drawn to mountains,” he said. “That’s where I wanted to be, all my life. I don’t think I could have ended up anywhere else.” 

Here in the Eastern Sierra, we’re so lucky to be home to artists of Steve White’s caliber. (Sorry, NASA.) You can check out his work at www.stevenwhitewoodworking.com or stop by his studio at 336 Hammond Street.

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16 hours ago

If you plan to be in the area at the end of March, grab your tickets to this event early - it is usually a full house! Hosted by Inyo Council for the Arts, it is two evenings of adventure, culture, art, and good causes. Each night features different films - so get tickets for both 😁.Tickets for the 2019 Banff Film Festival go on sale February 18th! Tickets are $15 per night and are available at Eastside Sports and Inyo Council for the Arts in Bishop and Booky Joint in Mammoth Lakes. ******NOTE: Due to non-cooperation by the weather, tickets may not be available at Booky Joint on February 18th. We are working on getting the tickets up there as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding and patience! Tickets will still be available on the 18th at Eastside Sports and ICA, and by calling ICA.****** Ignite your passion for adventure, action, and travel! This year’s exhilarating and provocative films explore remote landscapes, highlight mountain cultures, and feature exciting adventures and adrenaline-packed sports. The festival will take place Friday, March 29th, and Saturday, March 30th. Screenings are in the Charles Brown Auditorium at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. Doors open at 6pm, films start at 7pm, with different films shown each night. Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival is brought to the Eastern Sierra by Inyo Council for the Arts. For more information and tickets, call Inyo Council for the Arts at 760-873-8014 or visit www.inyo.org. ... See MoreSee Less

If you plan to be in the area at the end of March, grab your tickets to this event early - it is usually a full house! Hosted by Inyo Council for the Arts, it is two evenings of adventure, culture, art, and good causes. Each night features different films - so get tickets for both 😁.

18 hours ago

In town for the weekend? Don't forget to check out our great local merchants and galleries, including this new one on Main Street. Find more here: www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/arts-photography/ or stop by the Visitors Center at the Bishop City Park, across street from Schat's Bakkery! ... See MoreSee Less

In town for the weekend? Dont forget to check out our great local merchants and galleries, including this new one on Main Street. Find more here: https://www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/arts-photography/ or stop by the Visitors Center at the Bishop City Park, across street from Schats Bakkery!

2 days ago

Hello friends and fans of the Eastern Sierra! The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be participating in the 2019 LA Travel & Adventure Show this weekend at the LA Convention Center! We hope you'll stop by our booth to pick up a free visitor guide. The first 150 people to use our promo code, VIPBSHP, will receive a free ticket to the show! Visit LATravelShow.com to get your ticket! ... See MoreSee Less

Hello friends and fans of the Eastern Sierra!  The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be participating in the 2019 LA Travel & Adventure Show this weekend at the LA Convention Center!  We hope youll stop by our booth to pick up a free visitor guide.  The first 150 people to use our promo code, VIPBSHP, will receive a free ticket to the show! Visit LATravelShow.com to get your ticket!

 

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The Chuck and Joe show is always good. My two favorite Chamber hosts.

I've got go to my OSHA 30 training CLASS otherwise I would be interested!

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