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2024/2025 Award of Distinction Honoree

Writer, Editor in Chief — Fine Woodworking Magazine

The Furni­ture Society is excited to announce John Kelsey as a 2024/2025 Award of Distinction honoree.

John’s award will be presented at a luncheon cere­mony during the Furni­ture Soci­ety’s 2025 in-person confer­ence (loca­tion and date TBD). Addi­tional regional events are being planned for the Fall of 2025.

John Kelsey in workshop 2024

John Kelsey has spent 50 years writing and editing books and maga­zines about wood­work­ing and furni­ture design. But in the 1970s Kelsey almost became a furni­ture maker instead, until his skills as a news­pa­per jour­nal­ist pushed him back into publish­ing, to special­ize in unexplored terrain. 

In the begin­ning every­thing we wrote about was new, we could open windows for wood­work­ers every­where,” Kelsey recalls of his eight years as Fine Wood­work­ing magazine’s first editor in chief. We were riding a cultural moment, there was huge inter­est in crafts.”

In 1974, at the height of the drop-out-and-go-back-to-the-land move­ment and after 10 years as a news­pa­per reporter and editor, Kelsey had decided to make a new career of his wood­work­ing hobby. He enrolled that autumn in the School for Amer­i­can Crafts­men at Rochester Insti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, one of the very few colleges that taught furni­ture making. The young jour­nal­ist found it an exhil­a­rat­ing immer­sion and natu­rally kept notes, sketches and photos. I wanted to open a cabinet shop, make tables and chairs, and maybe I could make a little side money writing, though who knew where to publish — there weren’t any perti­nent maga­zines and not many books either,” he recalls.

Mean­while, the Connecti­cut busi­ness­man Paul F. Roman was moving on his own career change from corpo­rate exec­u­tive to maga­zine publisher. Taunton Press was his new venture, and his big idea was Cabinetmaker’s Journal, soon renamed Fine Wood­work­ing. Roman needed mate­r­ial, RIT was a good place to look. Kelsey wrote for the first issue and every issue for years there­after, soon began editing arti­cles so Roman could concen­trate on the fast-growing busi­ness, and within a year was named FWW’s editor-in-chief. 

This turn derailed Kelsey’s furni­ture-making plans and set him on his long career as writer, photog­ra­pher, editor, publisher, and book­seller special­iz­ing in all things wood-making. After FWW, high­lights included estab­lish­ing Threads maga­zine in 1985, found­ing Cambium Press publish­ers and the special­ist book­seller Cambium Books in 1995, and launch­ing the Furni­ture Society’s Furni­ture Studio series of books in 1999

While my career was focused on helping others write and publish about their craft work,” he hastened to add, none of it would have been possi­ble without remark­able teams of people notably includ­ing my sons Morgan and Ted Kelsey and daugh­ter Jennifer Camp­bell; the late Paul F. Roman who was Taunton Press founder and publisher; edito­r­ial colleagues Rick Mastelli, Laura Tringali, and David Sloan; design­ers Roger Barnes, Deborah Fillion, Peggy Bloomer, and Maura ZImmer; and adven­tur­ous publish­ers includ­ing Phil Macdon­ald of the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Wood­turn­ers and Andrew Glasgow of The Furni­ture Society. Among many many others.”

I’ve been lucky,” Kelsey says today. I was in the right places at pivotal moments, with the skills needed to get stuff done, plus a lot of help from other crafts artists with stories of their own to tell. It’s been a long and bumpy ride, but a ton of fun.”

And what of being named one of the Furni­ture Society’s 2024 honorees? I was flab­ber­gasted, just blown away, and humbled. Over the years I’ve worked with more than half of the past honorees, they are my heroes. To sit among them, what a gift!“

Kelsey worked for Taunton Press, publish­ers of Fine Wood­work­ing, Fine Home­build­ing and Threads maga­zines, for 17 years, 1976 thru 1982. After that free­lance edito­r­ial work on books and maga­zines across the wood­work­ing and crafts domains, for clients that included GMC Publi­ca­tions (UK), Linden Publish­ing, Rodale Press, Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Wood­turn­ers, and The Furni­ture Society. He founded and oper­ated Cambium Press from 1995 until 2006 and published titles that included David Pye’s two books on design and work­man­ship, Stephen Hogbin’s Appear­ance & Reality,’ and Robert W. Lang’s collec­tions of measured shop draw­ings for Crafts­man-era furni­ture and acces­sories. In those years the Connecti­cut-based busi­ness also oper­ated Cambium Book­sellers, special­ists stock­ing 1,500 titles sourced world­wide on wood­work­ing, furni­ture making, boat­build­ing, and related subjects broadly defined. During the Furni­ture Soci­ety’s early years we set up book­selling kiosks at the annual confer­ences,” Kelsey recalls. Good way to meet a lot of people.”

As Fine Wood­work­ing maga­zine approached 100,000 subscribers, the publish­ers invited readers to send in photos of their best work in wood, with this black-and-white book the eye-popping result. No-one had seen a range of work like this before.