“Green Craftsman” has Hollywood connection
What do John Goodman, a polar bear and dozens of families in Pennsylvania and New York have in common? No-this isn’t a riddle or joke, but the answer might surprise you, and will definitely put a smile on your face.
The actor, bear and families have all, in one way or another, enjoyed the self-taught skill and craftsmanship of Burgettstown carpenter and woodworker Vince Gillen-and, if you’re so inclined, you can, too. In fact, you may have already enjoyed some of his handy work, even if you weren’t aware of it at the time.
Gillen has worked on set teams for numerous films and television shows, including an upcoming release starring John Goodman and Diane Keaton. As a union member of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers, he’s also worked on carpentry teams for blockbusters such as Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Next Three Days and One for the Money.
In addition to his work for the silver screen, Gillen has been involved with a variety of publicly-appreciated projects and contributed significantly to fixtures and improvements at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, where, among other things, he served on the team that built the Klondike Village for the Zoo’s resident polar bear.
High profile projects like these keep Gillen busy-and away from home-for a few months each year but expose him to experiences that continue to shape his carpentry. “I’ve learned a lot working with other carpenters on sets,” he told us. “Their skill level is amazing, and they’re always eager to share what they know.”
But, at the end of the day, home is where the heart is for this 67-year-old retired school teacher. Although he cherishes the learning opportunities and commodore of set work, Gillen finds his greatest pleasure working on his own land, from gardening and tending to his droves of honeybees to renovating on his own home structures and building the slab tables that dozens of families in Pennsylvania and New York have enjoyed over the years.
Home is also where Gillen’s journey as a self-taught carpenter and woodworker began. For many years, he worked as caretaker for a 600-acre plot of land, ten acres of which eventually became his own. Before retiring from his career in elementary education in 2005, he built his home on his slice of the plot and came up with creative ways to use the fallen lumber around him.
A self-proclaimed scavenger and certified Green Craftsman, Gillen uses the fallen lumber to create one-of-a-kind slab tables and countertops, which have brought him local and regional acclaim, both for his sustainable methods and for the rustic, yet modern appeal of his pieces. His tables were previously sold through ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan for several years, though he’s since branched off on his own and now sells his woodwork to buyers directly, bringing them greater savings and a more personalized shopping experience.
Folks who buy a table from Gillen don’t just enter his workshop, point to something, and leave with a pre-fab, commonplace product. Each piece Gillen creates is as different as a snowflake, and can be customized to meet any buyer’s specific needs and interests. He invites customers to explore his wood inventory before ordering a table, and then walks them through the building process so that they can fully appreciate, and be an integral part of, how their table will be made.
If you’d like to learn more about Vince Gillen and his work, visit vincegillenfurniture.com. And, if you’d like to learn how to do what Gillen does, keep your eyes and ears peeled! His future plans include returning to his professional roots and teaching table-making on his land.
Story by Sarah Beth Martin for Pennsylvania Bridges