“I’m not the kind of person that jumps up and down and hugs everybody nearby” when winning an award, Mark says. “It’s more like I’m sitting on a bigger, more solid chair. I just feel like I have a basis of confidence with the people that I’m dealing with.”
Mark creates furniture and architectural features as the head of his own company. He’s also one of our key collaborators in bringing TROPHYOLOGY’s made-in-Austin awards to life.
On a chilly day last week, Mark took some time to talk with us at his office about the creative process, the power of recognition and how he melds diverse influences.
When Mark began his company in 1995, he had been working with wood only about five or six years. He was drawn to the craft by necessity.
“I was in architecture school (at the University of Texas), and I needed furniture and I didn’t have any money,” he says. So he started to make his own.
The color, warmth and texture of wood appeal to Mark as well as the inherent material properties.
“Its strengths and weaknesses are things that architects can really sink their teeth into,” he says. For example, wood is strong parallel to the grain and weak against it. Working with a material that has such restrictions can generate ideas, he says. “You have to work to its advantages.”
Mark’s knowledge of wood is a key part of taking TROPHYOLOGY awards from design to reality. He points out that some woods hold up better than others to the chisel or the laser cutter. And for awards that will be displayed outdoors, such as TROPHYOLOGY’s Austin Energy Green Building plaques, a rot-resistant wood is essential.
Creating an award involves a rigorous design process and collaboration. TROPHYOLOGY founder and creative director Eva Schone values Mark’s input to initial design directions, drawings, renderings, and foam mockup models. His feedback about the practicalities of making a particular award in a wood “might steer the direction of development of the idea,” Mark says.
“The development stage involves a proliferation of possibilities,” he adds, as they consider various combinations of shapes and materials for the award.
With an architecture background himself, Mark appreciates the architectural influence on TROPHYOLOGY creations.
“They have a definite architectural symbolism, and an architect’s love of materiality,” he says.
Mark was nominated by architects he’s worked with for the TSA award. It honors a body of work, not a particular project.
“It feels great. It’s a real honor” to be recognized by people he admires, he says.
The TSA Award isn’t his only recent honor. In the Winter 2013 issue of Austin HOME magazine, Mark is recognized as Best Custom Furniture Maker in Austin, based on a survey of industry professionals. His media coverage also includes Tribeza and Apartment Therapy.
He feels honored when clients he’s worked with before ask him to create more furniture for them.
“Being approached by designers and architects that I really admire is always a big vote of confidence,” he says. Besides TROPHYOLOGY, he’s also collaborated with architects including Larry Speck, Arthur W. Andersson and the firm Miro Rivera.
One of his current projects is creating furniture for Pollen Architecture & Design’s chapel renovation at St. Edward’s University. It’s work that should be on public view for a long time. And it’s easy to imagine a future woodworker being inspired by it just as Mark was inspired as a UT student by the woodcarvings of Peter Mansbendel in the Texas Union.
Another milestone that holds great meaning for Mark was being asked to teach at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. He welcomes the chance to pass on his knowledge of woodworking. “Teaching has worked out really well for me,” says Mark, whose father was a teacher as well.
Early in life, encouraging words from teachers made a difference to Mark.
“People need affirmation and recognition throughout their lives, especially while they’re growing up, in order to have the confidence to do what they want to do,” he says.
“They need to hear it when I think they’ve done a good job,” Mark says of his employees.
He’s very conscious of affirmation with his students as well.
“I’ve recognized that I’m not just a neutral figure to my students,” he says. “I’m not simply conveying technique to them, but I am, in some respects, a leader to them. Whatever level of work my students are doing, each of them really does need to hear something positive on a regular basis.
“I think I was a little reticent to do that at first,” he continues, explaining that he used to think that the work would speak for itself and students would know that it was good. “But what I have realized over time is that every single student needs to hear positive feedback. It’s just part of being a human being to need that.”
Mark’s creative and accomplished career brings together two distinct threads of influence.
But he also has a fondness for older buildings.
“The level of ornament and detail that you got in buildings before 1900 is just a whole other standard of what a building or a house is and what it means to people,” he says.
That push and pull between traditional buildings and modern design surfaces in his work.
“In some ways, woodworking is a way of bridging that,” he says.
With his pieces, Mark says, the influence of modernism might be part of your first impression. But looking more closely, you still see a level of detailing and a quality of materials that recall an earlier era.
“I want it to have the level of completion and satisfaction that I get from seeing traditional buildings,” he says.
His philosophy closely matches TROPHYOLOGY’s, Eva says.
“We strive to work at the intersection of innovative design and technology paired with traditional craft,” Eva says. “Mark’s architectural and design background and his outstanding craftsmanship offer such unique and valuable contributions to our work. We feel lucky to collaborate with him and his team.”