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June 14, 2014

Artisan of the Year: Joseph Muehl: Schenevus woodworker finds joy in art for art's sake

For woodworker Joe Muehl of Schenevus, the artwork he creates truly is a labor of love.

The Oneonta native started pursuing an interest in woodworking nearly 40 years ago after relocating to the Boston area, and turned his new interest into a profession.

“I’m not sure exactly what made me pursue woodworking, but as I got into it, I enjoyed the whole challenge of it,” Muehl recalled during a recent phone interview. “I think it’s a beautiful medium to work in. Also, I just enjoy the whole process of designing, and making it into a finished piece.”

Muehl, who studied art history at the State University College at Oneonta, gave some credit to his family when recounting how he became inspired to take up woodworkers’ tools.

“My father was always good with his hands, and actually my grandfather on my mother’s side started Murphy’s Shoe Shop, which was there for many years in Oneonta. He was good with his hands, too,” Muehl said.

Once he decided to make it a profession, Muehl took his work seriously.

“Basically, when I stated, I was ... working on the technical aspects of woodworking so that I was able to know what to put together and how to do it, with the form following function,” Muehl said. “As time went on, I was focused on doing commercial kinds of things. So I didn’t have an opportunity a lot to nurture the creative design side for myself.”

But all that has changed now, Muehl said. And it happened when he stopped making his living as a woodworker and started doing it for fun.

In his application for the Artisan of the Year award, Muehl wrote:

“In the late 1980s, seeking greater economic stability, I returned to college and earned a master’s degree in social work. As one of my fellow social workers appropriately stated, ‘The good thing about social work is that you can get a low paying job anywhere.’ In 1997, I returned to this area to be closer to my family and have since been happily employed as a clinical social worker with Delaware County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services. Since I no longer depend on commissioned woodwork to make my living, I have been having a blast doing it for fun.”

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