It is no surprise that the Bourbon industry has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past couple of years. The enthusiasm for the Kentucky spirit has done wonderful things for the economy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but has also opened new doors of opportunity to others in the state. Tess Larimore, a resident of Lexington, Kentucky, saw this industry boom as her opportunity to expand a newfound love of hers: carpentry and woodworking. Always interested in reclaimed objects, especially wood, Tess began fiddling around with turning that vessel that holds the precious golden whiskey into something more than just a barrel. Though Tess saw a barrel as a work of art in itself (as it takes so much precision and craftsmanship to create a container that is watertight out of wood), she saw unlimited potential.
Tess also participated in the recent Town Branch Bourbon Barrel Project, in which local artists took a Town Branch Bourbon barrel and transformed it into a work of public art. The pieces were then auctioned off to benefit charity. As Tess wanted her piece to be an opportunity for everyone – especially children – to interact with the pieces and the barrels, she expanded beyond the shape of the barrel to create a hobby horse named Giddyup. A horse made out of a Bourbon barrel: it doesn’t get more Kentucky than this.
I met with Tess in her studio in a detached garage chock full of the many tools of her trade (her boyfriend even jokes that “Most women buy clothes and shoes. She buys TOOLS!”). She was hard at work, despite the November cold, sawing, Dremeling, and sanding away. I could see that this was the workshop of a passionate person. As I took in the bits and pieces of the various shapes and sizes of wood (mostly carved out of the staves from Bourbon barrels), I tried ti divine what each piece would eventually become.
“These are going to be magnets,” said Tess, as she plucked a piece of oak from a Tupperware container on her work table. “And these are supposed to be salad tongs. We’ll see how they turn out.”
As I adjusted to her methods, I slowly saw everything else in the shop take shape. What seemed like a few bits of strangely shaped scrap wood were actually meant as a wooden handle for a pocket knife. Tess held up the steel blade that would set inside the handle, and it made perfect sense. The whimsically shaped hoop steel that sat above one of her recently crafted (and well-crafted, I may add) cutting boards were made to adorn the top of the board as a handle. Another cutting board sat a few feet away being glued together, ready for sanding once the bonds had set.
Mid-conversation, Tess asks if she can finish one small piece before we continue. Her enthusiasm for her craft is infectious. As I watch (from a safe distance, as to not catch a stray piece of sawdust in my eyes), I see a small star emerge from the piece of barrel she is forming. The star was a topper for a Bourbon barrel Christmas tree. “They lay flat, so I can ship them anywhere. And all of the ornaments are made out of vintage jewelry.” She runs back into the house and returns with a completed tree. The boughs fan out from the base and are equipped with small holes that fit the delicate and unique ornamentation. It’s a rustic, artistic, and very uniquely Kentucky kind of tree. “This one’s for you!” It proudly sits on my dining room table. And the best part is you can still smell a little of the Bourbon from the barrel.
Christmas trees aren’t Tess’s only new creations, though. She sees just about everything coming out of a Bourbon barrel (and I mean everything – candles, clocks, tables, cutlery, stools, napkin rings, sushi boards and chopsticks, and even full bars!), her newest venture is Bourbon barrel jewelry. Some of the pieces are crafted out of the wood of the barrels, and others are made from the barrel hoops. Rings, bracelets, earring, pendants – you name it, and Tess can make it.
If you would like to add one of these unique, handmade pieces of Bourbon barrel art to your collection, kitchen, or look, you can find Tess’s wares at Decorator Warehouse in Lexington, KY or send her an email at [email protected]