Woodworking wonder


So far, Jim Rende hasn’t found a piece of wood he didn’t like.

He doesn’t necessarily know what it will ultimately be, but that’s no deterrent to stockpiling it in his Jarales workshop.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Jarales woodworker Jim Rende spent 33 years as an architect, working in California and New Mexico. Almost four years ago, Rende became a Christian and changed directions in his life, moving to rural New Mexico and experimenting with making furniture from found wood.

A workshop that used to be a stable for Arabians and is still the home of the scalloped edge, pitted, gnawed on top boards of the stalls. Only now those boards are being re-purposed by this new Christian, given new life and new meaning, much like Rende himself.

For 33 years, Rende was an architect here in New Mexico and in California. Born and raised in San Francisco, Rende completed his degree at University of New Mexico in the late ’70s, and was first licensed to practice architecture in New Mexico.

While in the Land of Enchantment, Rende and the company he worked for did architectural design work for projects around the state — one of the most significant being the renovations of the New Mexico State Penitentiary after the 36 hours of riots in 1980.

“We also did jobs like the remodel of St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe,” Rende. “I worked on a lot of different projects, all different types.”

Eventually, the firm he was with was bought out, and Rende and his wife, Margie, decided to return to his native California.

After 25 years on the West Coast, the couple felt the winds of change, Rende said.

“You know, everything changed when I became a Christian,” he said.

Rende talks about back in 2007, when the economy began to stumble, how he felt there was something else he needed to do.

He’s not talking about the end of the world, but something more subtle.

“We are headed into difficult times and people need to get ready for that,” he said. “We need to live with love and kindness.”

The couple moved to the valley in 2010, buying a small house on a few acres, along with the aforementioned workshop.

Although he enjoyed being an architect for more than three decades, Rende said his heart just wasn’t into it anymore.

So with some free time on his hands, he traded in his drafting tools for power tools and a rack of chisels.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: A colossal piece of a cottonwood trunk is transformed into a table, complete with wine storage. Jarales woodworker Jim Rende said the large block of wood acts as a heat sink, keeping the bottles fairly well chilled, regardless of the surrounding temperature.

Rende said as a child, he loved to draw and always wanted to be an artist.

“I taught myself how to draw car designs,” he said. “I like the idea of making things. I like design. Taking something that looks imperfect and giving it style. I look at a stump of wood and try to bring out the most in this piece of wood.”

Several pieces of wood in his workshop come from a cottonwood that fell across the irrigation ditch behind his property. At one point, someone had set the tree on fire in an effort to get rid of the massive chunk of dead wood.

Rende has taken the trunk, with its gnarly roots and their interesting twists, and turned it into unique pieces of furniture.

One piece, made from a three-foot section of trunk, has been shaped into a table, complete with holes for a wine collection.

“Last summer, I had some bottles of wine in one, just to see how it would look and where the holes should go, and I pulled out a bottle and it was actually pretty well chilled,” Rende said. “It must have been close to 100 degrees in this building, but the wine was perfect. People don’t realize that wood is an amazing heat sink.”

The wine table and a chair full of graceful curves and swoops, still show the marks of the flames that failed to consume the tree. Rende carves off the burnt wood, exposing the smoke darkened grain beneath, and hand-finishes each piece to satiny softness.

When he began renovating the former stable, Rende took apart the old horse stalls, keeping the boards. The top board on each stall had been chewed on by the horses over the years, leaving each one with a distinctive edge.

Rende has used two of the stall boards to frame a mirror.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: It’s just right. One of wood worker Jim Rende’s grandsons takes a chair made from a fallen cottonwood tree for a test drive in his grandfather’s Jarales workshop.

And his found wood doesn’t stop at his property boundaries. When Tommy’s Lounge in Belen was being demolished earlier this year, the contractor set aside usable wood and anyone with an interest could take a load for free.

Rende snagged several of the old ceiling beams, which still smelled of the turpentine used to preserve wood back in the 1920s.

“When I started working with that wood and cutting it, I saw how close the rings were,” Rende said, excitement coloring his voice. “After I counted them, I realized the trees this wood came from was growing in the 1860s. That is so cool.”

He even used it as a teaching moment with his four grandchildren.

“Old growth wood like this, it’s four times stronger than the new stuff,” he said.

Farmed lumber is often forced to grow quickly in order to be harvested regularly.

Rende has taken the wood from Tommy’s Lounge and used it to make a table and a bench.

The bench has a feature that is a feature of all Rende’s furniture — a passage of scripture.

On the bench, it reads, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

Apropos for a bench.

All of his completed pieces feature scripture, Rende says, to give the piece some spirituality.

“Some things I know what I’m going to use, like the bench or the mirror,” he said. “Some I have to wait for but it’s always something appropriate for the piece.”

The inscription on the mirror frame is halfway completed.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” Corinthians 13:12

The table from the lumber out of Tommy’s is still waiting.

“Sometimes, things will sit for a while,” he said, laughing. “I have to reflect on God.”

Rende said he is inspired by works by Victor Vasarely, a Hungarian–French artist whose work is generally seen as aligned with Op-art — optical art — a style of visual art that makes use of optical illusions.

But inspiration doesn’t mean copying.

“When I’m inspired, I don’t take a piece and look at it while I work, but it’s in my mind,” he said. “I hold on to that and usually end up with something different and usually much better.”

And inspiration often comes from thinking outside the box, and accepting that you won’t always be successful out there.

During his studies at UNM, Rende took an art class. His sculpture professor really pushed him to explore the concepts he used in architecture, Rende said, something he enjoyed. The professor assigned the class a project that had to incorporate time.

“I thought and thought. I had just gotten a package with a bunch of those Styrofoam packing peanuts. Then I had an idea,” he said.

Using their natural static, Rende stuck the peanuts on a wall in the studio.

“The professor walked in, looked at them, kind of paused and started his lecture, Rende said.

Slowly but surely the pieces began to fall off the wall, as they lost their static charge … over time.

“He got the biggest kick out of that,” he remembers, smiling. “But it worked. If you are afraid to fail you’ll never get over that hurdle. It’s a big deal to push yourself and know you’re going to fail sometimes.”

Some of Rende’s completed furniture can be found at his wife Margie’s consignment store Anew on Main — 121 South Main St. in Belen.

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.