Wood, nails, orange crates and his family’s support were all a young Harry Gigous needed to start a long path toward becoming an artisan woodworker.
“I’ve been blessed by being born into a family where my parents allowed me to use my father’s tools and at times my mother’s kitchen to make things and experiment a bit,” said Harry, who creates Shaker boxes and Yukon knives and other kitchen tools. “
When the former high school mathematics teacher recently was given the opportunity for an early retirement, he changed career paths and pursued a life-time interest working with wood.
“As an adult I’ve been very fortunate to have a wife and children who encouraged me to ‘give it a shot,’ and then to try again until at last progress was made and the goal was closer,” Harry said.
Having a great-grandfather in northern Indiana who was a cabinet maker helped, too.
“I’ve seen some of my great-grandfather’s work and would like to think I’m helping to carry on the same level of craftsmanship,” the Kosciusko County artisan added.
His pieces have a history as deep as his Indiana roots.
Until tin boxes became readily available shortly after the Civil War, wooden boxes were used to store household items. The distinctive Shaker boxes are among the most recognizable style of that era.
Harry follows the Shakers’ methods for making the boxes, choosing mostly cherry, but has modified some interiors to make them more easily used in the 21st century.
“Making individual Shaker boxes is hugely labor-intensive and there doesn’t seem to be any way to satisfactorily shorten the process,” he said. “Each step is dependent upon the quality of preceding steps.”
The Shaker work is just part of Harry’s repertoire. Prior to 1928, home-baked bread was sliced using a knife that resembled a violin bow and is similar to Harry’s Yukon bread knife.
“1928 is noteworthy,” he added, “for that is the year Otto Rohwedder introduced a machine which automatically sliced bread for commercial bakeries. Hence the saying, ‘The best thing since sliced bread.’ With the advent of commercially sliced bread, the Yukon style knife started to disappear from homes.”
Bread knives became popular again, though, when the bread machine was introduced in the 1970s. More recently, grocery stores have reintroduced unsliced bread, so “we have come full circle to again need a bread knife in the home.”
Harry’s Yukon bread knives are made of cherry, hard maple, red oak or black walnut and are functionally the same as ones used in the 19th century, around the time of the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898. “I have modified the shape slightly so that they are more pleasing to the eye,” he said. “Also, I use a stainless steel blade so it will not rust or tarnish as did the carbon steel ones our forefathers used.”
Harry is proud to have his Shaker boxes and Yukon knives as part of the Indiana Artisan brand.
“It’s one thing to receive the buying approval of the general public,” he said. “But it is quite another thing to receive the approval of a jury of your peers and be accepted for the Indiana Artisan designation. Many artists successfully sell their work, but not many receive the Indiana Artisan designation.”
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