Veteran Cabinet Maker Works With Wood – But Creations Flow


Veteran Cabinet Maker

Works With Wood –

But Creations Flow

Cabinet maker Joe Muehl of Schenevus discusses “Who’s the Fairest?”, a Snow-White inspired mirror on display at CANO through Dec. 22.It took first place at the Northeastern Woodworkers Association “Showcase” last March in Saratoga Springs.  (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – One afternoon, Joe Muehl got the urge to build a model airplane.

“I hadn’t done one in 40 years,” he said. “And when I finished, I thought, well now what do I do with it? So I built a table around it.”

Muehl’s sidetable,  “The Only Good War,” substitutes cucumbers for bombs.


Titled “The Only Good War,” the glass and wood table depicts the model airplane dropping plastic cucumbers that dangle below the table.

After at Friday, Dec. 6, opening, it’s on display through Sunday, Dec. 22, at CANO, Oneonta’s arts council at 11 Ford Ave., part of Muehl’s show of handcrafted tables, mirrors, cabinets and lamp at CANO.

“I grew up in a farm family, so I’ve always been about the practical, rather than the sculptural,” he said. “I wanted to make stuff you could use.”

With a SUNY Oneonta degree in art and art history, Muehl built his first desk in 1971. “It worked,” he said. “It was very basic and simple, I used it at home.”

He honed his craft, working for 20 years as a cabinet maker, including making cabinets for his and wife Christine’s Schenevus home. “I like cabinetry because of the way things fit together,” he said. “I like doors and drawers.”

He went back to school for a master’s in social work, working for 19 years at an outpatient substance abuse program in Delaware County, retiring in 2015.

And in retirement, he’s found time to return to his passion for woodworking, including building his own woodworking bench.

“I always do original designs, never reproductions,” he said. “In a lot of ways, I’m self-taught, and now I have the luxury of time to play with different designs.”

He is especially influenced by Art Deco and Art Nouveau. “I like the geometry of Art Deco, but the fluidity of Art Nouveau,” he said. “I like to work with them together. And I use a lot of asymmetry to prevent them from being too boring! It causes the eye to move around more, creates something different.”

And in addition to the plane and cucumber “bombs” of “The Only Good War,” he has incorporated miniatures into other projects, including a commissioned mirror. “I made it look like someone was putting up a billboard,” he said. “I made little pulleys and scaffolding, and I used an old advertisement in the top upper left corner, above the frame.”

He called the piece “Quitting Time,” complete with tiny abandoned tools in the lift baskets.

An average piece takes three and four weeks to make, primarily with domestic hardwoods. “I’ve always been concerned about the environment,” he said. “I’ll use hardwood veneers sometimes, but I try to stay away from rainforest wood.”

In addition to CANO’s current show, he has shown in nearly a dozen exhibitions, including taking first place at this year’s Northeastern Woodworkers Association “Showcase” last March in Saratoga Springs, for his Snow-White inspired mirror, “Who’s The Fairest?” and second place for “Turkey Feathers” lamp, both on display at CANO.

“Building is a wonderful discipline,” he said. “There’s a satisfaction of working towards a goal. I feel sorry for people who don’t work with their hands – they’re missing out on something.”

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