Dr. Paul J. Godfrey is the owner, operator and worker of Paul’s Handcrafted Contemporaty Furniture. Each item is uniquely crafted to meet his high standards and aesthetic vision. Woodworking is not a new endeavor for him; he has been working with wood since he was a child. In fact, his father was a carpenter, and his father, and his father. In fact his first descendant in America was John Alden of Mayflower fame, the ship’s barrelmaker who asked for Priscilla Mullins hand for his friend Miles Standish to be surprise by her answer of “Why don’t you speak for yourself?” And so he did! And now I am.
This is not Paul’s first career, though. Beginning with a lifelong love of the outdoors and spending many hours fishing with his dad, Paul became a Fisheries Biologist working for the Pennsylvania Fish Commission for a couple years. During that time, his keen interest in the environment was enhanced. Even though the job of fishery biologist was physically and politically challenging and he was moving up in the ranks, he wanted to know about the whole system of nature, something we now call ecology.
He had met Laurie while at Tufts earning a Bachelor’s of Science. When he finally convinced her to marry him, he decided to go back to grad school. He chose to attend the University of Massachusetts earning a Master’s degree in Fisheries. But he had tasted the wider environmental knowledge and decided to continue at Cornell in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He and Laurie both got their Ph.D. degrees in 1977; she in physical anthropology. He followed her to UMASS where she became an assistant professor in 1978. He worked as a consultant for a year until an ad appeared in the local weekly paper for a part-time staff assistant at the Water Resources Research Center at UMASS. Within two years he was the acting Director and by 1983 he was permanent Director.
That career consumed most of his time for 22 years, not counting having two children. He retired early from UMASS and became the first Executive Secretary of the National Institutes for Water Resources, the national organization of water resources centers. In 2011, he retired from that job.
Never having been soley consumed by his profession, his other talents of woodworking, photography, and model railroading were not neglected before his retirement. Now they are unleashed.
Making lamps began as an effort to replace a disliked living room lamp with something better. That lamp became the model for all the lamps he has made since. The lamp still resides in his house, although there is heavy competition from the others for this prime spot.
Trivets began even earlier. When his now 40 year-old son was in grade school, there was interest in making Christmas presents for the grandparents. There were leftover sample tiles from an earlier house remodeling, and the idea was hatched to frame these for use as trivets on the dining table. A few were made and given that Christmas. When one grandmother moved nearer and the unpacking was proceeding, Paul observed that the same trivet, now 30 years old, went into the middle of the table, the same prominent location that the other grandparents’ trivet had been all those years. Impressed by the longevity and daily utility of this relatively simple gift, Paul decided to make a few more. More leftover tiles were found and a new design developed. After making more than enough for his house, the relatives got some. Then, friends got them as remembrances. Then, they were given as rewards to secretaries at water centers for their effort on a difficult annual survey. And so it went, as more than 600 trivets have been made. Paul’s trivets are all over the U.S. and the world – England, France, Scandinavia, Madagascar, Japan. Amazingly, Paul still enjoys making them.
Along the way, he has made cutting boards, breadboards, and, with Laurie, mosaics ranging from trivet size to end tables to bed headboards. He has made cabinets with inlaid tiles for his home and for family members. These are one-of-a-kind specifically made for a situation unlike the trivets which while unique are more general purpose. In all cases, though, the principle of simple functionality guides the design.