With the grain: James Dietz '90

James Dietz ’90 tries to balance the practical with the creative.

“Part of the time I build furniture to match existing pieces in businesses and homes, where there is a technical challenge to blend with what’s already there,” says Dietz, who now makes his home near Madison, Wisc. “And occasionally there is the opportunity to build creatively, unchained from preconceived notions of what furniture is. As I look back, having both order and creativity in my life has always balanced and centered me.”

Dietz grew up in Colorado but wound up in Wisconsin after graduation when he followed his wife, Amy Trentham-Dietz ’90, to UW-Madison for graduate studies. While Amy worked toward a Ph.D. in epidemiology, James entered the M.F.A. program there.

“Originally I thought I’d specialize in ceramics,” he says. “But when I discovered the furniture-design program, I knew I had found my medium. Woodworking and furniture design came naturally to me, I guess because of the way I think—ordered and analytical.” (Dietz majored in mathematics and minored in art while at Puget Sound.)

He says “Cage Table” (previous page) took about three weeks to complete. “This piece was the culmination of a series of cage tables I’ve done. The form came to me by turning a friend’s hanging bird cage upside down. The material choices continue a long-running interest I have in contrasting natural materials, in this case the dogwood branches, with what I can create (the furniture forms).”

So, can he make a living just building creative projects like cage tables? “I’d have to say no,” Dietz says. “Nor would I want to—the creative drain is too intense. In order to stay motivated, I have to balance the practical and creative realms, and not stay too long in either one.” Contact Jim at jm.dietz@juno.com.