Bookmark and Share

Championing affordable housing, The Naked Table Project heads to the State House

By Tom Ayres

Senior Staff Writer

When The Naked Table Project, a non-profit organization affiliated with the ShackletonThomas furniture makers in Bridgewater, was established 16 years ago, its goal was to connect communities with sustainable forestry and the environment by teaching people to craft tables from Vermont’s iconic sugar maple. Since its founding in 2008, daylong Naked Table workshops have taught up to 1,000 people to build beauteous tables in Woodstock and communities throughout the Upper Valley, while reaching as far afield as western Massachusetts.

Each Naked Table Community Building Project concludes with a sumptuous lunch of locavore cuisine, all served to the workshop participants atop the very tables they created earlier in the day. Naked Table events over the years have benefited a bevy of non-profit organizations in the region. This year The Naked Table Project is embracing a new staging area — the Vermont State House Lawn in Montpelier — for a full-day event that is set for Saturday, June 1, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gathering is being held in collaboration with the Vermont Woodlands Association. Coincident with the shift to the State Capitol as the locus for the event, The Naked Table Project organizers have also added a new public awareness component to the project’s core mission and vision.

“This year, the event seeks to raise awareness about the connections between sustainable forest management and our current housing crisis in the state,” ShackletonThomas founder and master furniture maker Charlie Shackleton said in an email statement last week. Proceeds from this year’s table-building event and banquet, to be held under a tent on the State House grounds, will benefit Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity. Plus there’s an additional connection to Vermont’s governance and political leaders embedded in the 2024 Naked Table project: participants who purchase tables in advance will use sugar maple wood sustainably harvested from former U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s certified Vermont Tree Farm to build tables. Leahy himself will address the audience upon the completion of the tables.

“I’ve always wanted to use furniture making to illustrate some of the things that I believe in,” Shackleton said in a phone interview on Monday, speaking about the inspiration for The Naked Table Project a decade-and-a-half ago. “I grew up interested in biology and natural history and when I went to art school, I wanted to do something that connected trees to the environment. I love making things, I love connecting with people, and I love community. I usually choose an organization to benefit from the Naked Tables by accident, but last fall somebody from Habitat for Humanity walked into ShackletonThomas and I thought, ‘My God, this is about the closest I can get to connecting the project to the housing crisis.’” Early in the morning on Saturday, June 1, the parts for up to 30 Naked Tables will be spread out on workbenches throughout a tent on the State House Lawn. Participants, working in groups of two to six, many of them families, will spend the next several hours sanding all the table parts, assembling them, and finishing them with a quick-drying, all-natural, environmentally friendly coating. Each table is 30 inches by 60 inches. Midway through the day’s efforts, the entire group, including the mentors from ShackletonThomas and other volunteers, will go on a “woods walk” led by Dave Wilcox of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.

“That’s another idea that has proved to be one of the most powerful components of The Naked Table Project,” Shackleton averred. “It’s just a simple idea, but it has a lot of complex connotations,” the furniture maestro and Naked Table Project founder continued. “We get a lot of people who come to make tables who’ve never had any furniture-making experience. They start building them in the morning and then they take a break and go for a walk in the woods — 40 or 50 people together — and then they come back to finish their tables and they are just obsessed with them. Then they get to take their tables home and there’s just this iconic story to go with them.”

Shackleton takes pains to explain how the name Naked Table came about – and as he does he emphasizes the local origins of all the materials and resources involved in the table-building benefit events. “My version of the Naked Table story — which varies a bit from that of my wife, the potter Miranda Thomas — is that because of the sustainable wisdom that underlies the project and is unlike anything you find in furniture stores, the process is completely exposed from the tree all the way to the table.

“It’s not made overseas and transported around the world. It’s all done locally,” Shackleton continued. “Everyone gets paid — the community of farmers, loggers, the mill and woodworkers. Jed Lipsky, a logger who also happens to represent Stowe in the Vermont State Legislature, did the logging of sugar maple on Senator Leahy’s land — I believe he donated it this year — and then Wright’s Sawmill in White River has done a lot of the sawing and drying. Gagnon’s Lumber in Pittsford has done more of the wood processing and drying. We use Vermont Natural Coatings from Hardwick for the all-natural coatings that go on at the finish. They have zero VOCs — volatile organic compounds. They’ve always been an incredible supporter of the event.”

The Naked Table Project at the State House was originally scheduled to take place in September of last year, but widespread flooding the previous July wreaked havoc not only on Montpelier, where both the state government and the office of Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity are housed, but also on ShackletonThomas’ home base in Bridgewater. That experience gives a special resonance to the Naked Table event coming up on June 1.

“The event will raise awareness for how essential forest products are for basic societal needs like housing and how important it is that forest products are harvested sustainably. Responsible stewardship fosters healthy, diverse forests while providing for our communities, especially those in need,” Shackleton explained. Participation in the full Naked Table Project event on June 1 — including the maple table, educational forest walk, lunch for two created from locally grown and prepared produce by Cloud 9 caterers of Colchester, and two commemorative tee shirts — is $2,500, of which $1,800 is tax deductible. Both Habitat for Humanity and The Naked Table are registered non-profit organizations. Twenty-five percent of all profits from the event will go to Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity. For more information, please call (802) 672-5175, email store@shackletonthomas. com, or visit NakedTable. com.

“I’ve always wanted to use furniture making to illustrate some of the things that I believe in.”

— Charlie Shackleton

Charlie Shackleford, right, inspects sugar maple lumber at Gagnon Lumber in Pittsford. The wood will be used for The Naked Table Project table-building benefit for Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity, slated for the Vermont State House Lawn on Saturday, June 1.

JuanCarlos Gonzalez Photo

The Naked Table Project: A Benefit for Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity

Saturday, June 1 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Vermont State House Lawn, Montpelier

$2,500 participation fee ($1,800 tax-deductible) Includes table to be made from Vermont sugar maple, a forest walk, lunch, and commemorative tee shirts For more information, call (802) 672-5175, email store@shackletonthomas.com, or visit NakedTable.com.

The Naked Table Project’s founder, Charlie Shackleton, welcomed dinnergoers to a benefit event under the wooden bridge in Woodstock Village at a table-building gathering co-presented by Sustainable Woodstock in 2018.

John Fox Photo

Bookmark and Share