Raised in Hawai'i, Shaun Fleming has taken the world and her community by storm with her award-winning art.
Shaun specializes in woodwork, furnishings, cabinetry, and inlaid boxes. Her signature is marquetry, a specific art that uses tiny pieces of wood to create detailed imagery. She has created works that depict native Hawai'ian birds, flowers, and sea life. Inspired by the land around her, she adds a distinct embellishment with the use of exotic woods such as koa, mango, wenge, walnut, and mahogany.
She is a trailblazing self-taught artist whose art reflects her years riding the Hawaiian waves and being immersed in her rich and beautiful culture. Conscious art connoisseurs value her pieces throughout the world. Each piece contains genuine depth and is created to pave the way for generations to come.
We talked to Shaun about her journey as an artist and her life in Hawai’i. Read what she had to say below!
How has Hawai'i and the island of Maui inspired your work and passions?
Being surrounded by the beautiful mountains and the ocean in Hawai'i can't help but influence my work. I don't have to seek very far for natural inspiration, which surprises and amazes me daily. Its wood is the source of my passion and livelihood, woodworking. When I'm not building custom furniture and art pieces, I can be found landscaping, delighting in the ocean, or catching a sunset on the North Shore.
What is art to you, and how do you find your inspiration?
My art is an avenue to express my fascination and love for our natural environment. Sometimes inspiration finds its way to me when I am sleeping and suddenly feel the urge to capture my vision down on paper or when I am landscaping my yard.
My excitement for my work is re-ignited every time I see elaborate marquetry designs of the past.
How did your career as a woodworker begin? What is woodworking exactly?
My career as a woodworker was a hobby turned to trade. I worked at a cabinet shop as a sander in my twenties, where I started bringing home scraps of wood from the trash. When people saw what I was creating, they began to ask if I could build things for them, from rocking chairs to turned wood bowls, coffee tables, entertainment centers, custom ukuleles, guitars, amongst other things. So I slowly began acquiring tools and expanding my repertoire.
Wood is my medium of choice. I design and build custom furniture, many of which can be used functionally or can be enjoyed purely as works of art. The work I do requires a high degree of skill, precision, and quality materials.
What is your favorite type of art?
I specialize in marquetry which is sometimes referred to as wood inlay. It is a labor-intensive, dying art in which I create images using natural woods as my palette. One of my favorite pieces is a wall-hung cabinet with a wood inlay of the contents of a typical kitchen which features the illusion of the cabinet door falling off. Another is a piece of marquetry with an Onaga fish hanging outside the frame.
How has surfing and the ocean influenced you in life?
The ocean and surfing have brought me joy, appreciation, a place to feel connected and to destress, a love for the natural environment and all the life it supports, and countless dinners! In my younger years, I spent as much time as possible on or under the water- diving, fishing, surfing, and raising my three beautiful children.
How do you perpetuate and educate people about Hawai'i through your work?
By showcasing the beauty and diversity of the natural forestry in Hawai'i, I hope to bring awareness to visitors and locals alike. Endangered native bird, plant, and insect life are often the subjects of my work. Using locally grown woods, the majority harvested from dying or dead trees gives me the opportunity to turn our natural resources into something lasting that will be cherished and bring joy to others.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist/student from Hawai'i?
Pursue your passion, surround yourself with the people in your trade or field, learn from your predecessors, seek out mentorship. But, most of all, don't feel intimidated by the caliber of craftsmanship of those more experienced than you. We all start somewhere!
Where has your art taken you in life?
My art has given me the ability to work from home while spending time with my children and grandchildren. The ability to start and run my own business, choose my hours, and opportunities to bring my creative visions to life.
I feel honored to have had my works selected into several juried exhibitions including, Art Maui and the Hawai'i Forest Industry Association exhibition, where I was awarded First Place furniture, First Place Accessories. I was also honored to win first place in the marquetry category of the national Veneer Tech Craftsman's Challenge in 2018. In addition, I have had several of my works featured in publications including, Contemporary Hawai'i Woodworkers, 500 Cabinets, and 500 Tables. One of my pieces also belongs to the public art collection for the Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
What excites you the most about your art?
I am blessed to live and work in such an amazing place and to have the privilege of working with some of the most beautiful woods in the world. What most excites me about my work is looking at a finished piece and appreciating where it came from. So often, people forget to consider the trees and raw wood that create so much of what we use and enjoy on a daily basis.
For inquiries about pieces for purchase or custom designs, please feel free to contact me through my website woodentouches.com or follow me on Instagram @shaun_fleming