September Featured Artist:  Joe Bourgeois

September Featured Artist:  Joe Bourgeois
By Annette Verna

Joe Bourgeois is a furniture and cabinet maker from Bunker Hill, WV.  His earliest experience working with wood was when he was 6 or 7 years old.  He and his brother decided they would add a room on to their house in Massachusetts.  “My mother found us with a hammer (missing half the handle), a few bent nails and a couple of short pieces of wood.  We were building a room on the house and were making the doorway.  She suggested we build the room first.  ‘How do you build a room’ was my question.”  That question stayed with him.

A Room and A Life

Joe started working with a cabinetmaker when he was 12.  “He showed me how to sand the edges of doors and round off the sharp corners.  I learned how to support heavy materials going through the table saw – he pushed, I held them up.  I learned in the summer to start at seven and quit at seven.  In other words, it became a life for me.”  

It wasn’t a paying job, but it was a valuable experience and Joe continued to work with the cabinetmaker until it was time for college.  He went off to Harvard and in the following years, he taught history, and then served as a United Methodist preacher.  At 40, he turned back to the idea of that room from many years ago, became a licensed construction contractor, and then a furniture and cabinet builder. 

The cabinetmaker from his youth appears in a few of Joe’s “Shop Musings” on his Web site (  The cabinetmaker passed away more than 40 years ago, but it is clear he left a lasting impression.  Joe most enjoyed the times he would get to do something new.  “I would go to one end of the bench, and he would go to the other.  I learned to watch him and thus learned the new task.”  As Joe grew his own business, it was his customers who influenced new experiences.  “I have always been excited about tackling a new thing.  I like it when customers ask me for new work.  In a way, it puts me back in that shop at the other end of the bench.”

Joe builds tables, chairs, beds, bureaus, desks, work centers, kitchen cabinets and other things.  He is currently working on a full set of kitchen cabinets.  His furniture includes inlays with wood, glass and tile.  If you’ve been to the Berkeley Art Works, you know he also makes sculptural art pieces and small art objects. 


A Relationship with Wood

Joe enjoys pushing the envelope with each new project and does his best to meet the challenges that come.  “I have no family tradition, or other strength that I can draw on.  I am just trying to continue forward,” he says.  When you read his musings, you will quickly learn that his relationship with wood goes deeper than this modest statement.  “Wood strikes many people as inert – unmoving and unchanging, passive, waiting for our touch to bring it to beauty.  This is a deep misunderstanding of the relation between wood and woodworker.  In the process of a project the change is at least equal, if not more on the woodworker’s side.  Wood changes our stance and alters our being.  It gets into our brain and unleashes forces which lift our vision and release our feelings.  The relationship between the woodworker and wood may be likened to that of a wave crashing onto the rocks.  The wave comes in and is metamorphosed into force and spray, and is redirected ultimately to itself and its source of energy.  When I start a project, I pick the size and shape that seem right for the purpose I have selected.  As I come incrementally closer and closer to the wood, my vision clears and feelings are released.  I am reoriented to my project and suddenly it is me reacting to the wood.  I am mixed with it.  This is important because wood is my way of communicating with others, and in a way it takes an equal part.  The brain of a woodworker is changed by wood.  Finally, that is good because it brings out a more authentic person.”

An Artisan’s Journey

Joe is an artisan – a combination of craftsperson and businessperson.  As a craftsperson he has focused on acquiring the practical skills necessary to master his medium.  No matter how simple or elementary a task, doing it properly takes practice (time) and skill (patience).  “Skill goes in two directions: one not only must know what one wants to do – cut, bore, turn – but one must know why one wants to do it – how does this action fit into the other actions one must perform to execute a specific design?”  The business side brings a different dimension to the questions of making.  The tasks of running the business must balance with the making.  “I want to be serious about finding mastery in my craft and allowing the business side to develop in coordination with that craft.  As the business side grows within this perspective, it feeds the craft side, revealing new challenges.”

Today, with years of experience, Joe seeks to growth in working with wood.  His motto:  “Every day put your hands on the wood.”  It is the road to the best growth and all creative people know they need to do the hard work to both grow and maintain a level of work.  “Wanting to be better, or to be at all, is not enough.  Some effective contact must be achieved.  With wood, meaningful contact involves the hands.  It involves investing oneself through manipulation.  This does not mean I ignore reading or thinking about wood, styles, etc.  These activities are good for a certain kind of perspective, but without hands-on experience, no real progress occurs.” 

Joe writes, “Wood has always been all around me – in the trees in the forest, in building construction, in furniture, sculpture and art….  Things have happened to me which have caused me to get a perspective on it beyond my first surround.”  He continues to question and search for meaning in his work and his creative life.  He strives to be the best craftsperson he can – every day.  “As I navigate my life and craft, I am looking for my job, my life-giving and identifying task.  It has brought me in contact with many good people and made me friends.  It has helped to plumb my own depths and potential.”  

As evidenced by his work and the people who seek it, Joe has built more than a “room” and a “life”.  Through his work and his journey, he shows us all the importance in finding, meeting and stretching the possibilities given to us, and the depth and richness of growth that comes in artistic development.

Come to the Berkeley Art Works anytime this month to see Joe’s work featured in our front window!  You can also see photos of his work on the Berkeley Arts Council Web site at  And of course, you can always come into the gallery Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 11am and 3pm to see what else is up in the co-op.  To see more, visit Joe’s Web site noted above as well as his Facebook page.

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New Online Class: Become a Color Pro!

Become a Color Pro:

Via Zoom
Wednesdays September 23, 30, October 7, 14. 6:00-8:00pm (Four Weeks)

Instructor: Judith Becker

This is a four week, eight hour class offered on Zoom. Each 2 hour class period will lead you through all of the features, benefits and nuances of each of the primary colors ending the last class with an explanation of greys and blacks. Every week we will delve into many of the commonly known hues in each color family, starting with the reds, then progressing through the blues and then yellows. Your learning will give you a firm foundation of knowing which hue in the color family you should use to get a specific effect. There will be simple exercises you will do for each color family. And you can use your favorite medium, water colors, acrylics, oils or colored pencils. (not very helpful with pastels).

Materials needed: Your medium of choice and appropriate painting surfaces – sheets of oil or acrylic paper work best for those mediums, brushes, ruler, pencil or pen, etc.

Tuition $80 for four weeks (8 hours)
Pre-registration required

Registrations Closed

If you would like to be notified of future classes, please send sign up for our arts bulletin or
email us at

Meet Featured Artist Gary Bergel

Gary Bergel

by Annette Verna

Gary Bergel considers himself a multi-disciplinary artist.  He creates photographic art, assemblages, paintings, and installations by finding beauty in the ordinary of every day.  If you’ve visited the Berkeley Art Works, you are familiar with the range of his work.

For Gary, opportunities abound in daily life.  “I always carry my iPhone with me.  Sometimes what I capture is autobiographical.  It is somehow related to my life in the moment.”  Photography can also be a tool for seeing and sketching ideas for later expressions in acrylic paint.  “What I create is a result of my daily experiences.”  He keeps four questions at the forefront of his life to help him create:  Who am I? Where did I come from? What can I learn? How is what I do important to me?  “My art adjusts to my spiritual condition and I am committed to stay in a state of listening, looking, and learning,” Gary says.

Gary grew up in the Lakeshore area of Wisconsin.  He began experimenting with art materials in grade school.  He was educated by Franciscans, who also encouraged his creativity.  Gary credits his passion for pastoral beauty and the environment, and being present to the here and now, to that time in his life.  His high school science teacher, who also ran the photography club, encouraged his passion for film photography and gave Gary the use of his darkroom.  Through his camera work, Gary kindled an appreciation for the smaller details of life.

Gary operated a photo studio during his mid-teen years, shooting portraits and weddings, which helped finance his education at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison.  There, he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education, Biology major with Natural Science and Art minors.  He completed Senior Thesis research in Lichenology and Chemical Taxonomy with noted botanist Dr. John W. Thomson (1913-2009).  His passion for art led to a Master of Arts degree in Mixed Media also from UW.  “I studied under the renowned ceramic artist Don Reitz (1929-2014), the noted private press artist Walter Hamady (1940-2019), and was a classmate of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.”  The Master’s degree program provided mentoring by visiting artists from New York and elsewhere, such as Abstract Expressionist pioneer Milton Resnik (1917-2004), and American Realist painter Jack Beal (1931-2013).  “It was a great cross-pollinating time.  For my MA degree show I mounted an ‘environment’, referred to today as an ‘installation’.”

As part of the Humanities faculty at Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo, Gary founded Space Gallery, curated exhibits, and taught Arts and Ideas courses, which integrated lectures by visiting artists.  He engaged in Postgraduate Study in the WMU art department with Lithographer/Painter Curtis Rhodes.  WMU Ford Foundation grants allowed him to explore experimental printmaking, photography, and mixed media installation.

Gary is always ready to capture the happenings and beauty surrounding him.  “Working from a personal blend of Eastern and Western aesthetics, I endeavor to express and reflect the way nature encompasses and speaks of beauty, spirituality, truth and divinity,” he says.  “I’ve always been interested in the life of the Spirit, intrigued by contemplative prayer, and became dedicated to social justice work.  I was fortunate to spend a good number of years doing neighborhood reconciliation and ecumenical work.”  Leaving WMU, he became more involved in trans-denominational networks and worked in community development in Native American communities as well as internationally.  His travels fuel his artwork.

Gary has been instrumental in creating opportunities for art to grow in our region.  A member of the Berkeley Arts Council’s Artists at the Works co-op since 2013, he has served two years on the Board of Directors and is a wise advisor in our governance.  He sequences the hanging of our exhibits, which brings a consistent voice to all of our visual presentations.  In April this year, he designed and created a window display in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which presented thought-provoking highlights of the modern environmental movement.  This past February, he curated a show of local tattoo artists to bring more attention to the medium and to these artists as members of our business community.  Tattoo and Beyond featured tattoo designs and artwork in other media.  In January, he helped his friend and fellow co-op member Doug Kinnett, coordinate monthly art critique sessions (put on hold temporarily due to Coronavirus restrictions).  Through his volunteer work in the Healing Arts Center at the Martinsburg Veterans Administration Medical Center he curated the Veteran’s Vernacular exhibition at the Berkeley Art Works in observance of the Armistice Day 100th Anniversary in November, 2018.

In the wider community, he was a founding board member of the Washington Street Artists’ Cooperative in Charles Town, WV.  He has taught Visual Arts, Creativity, Color and Design and Introductory Digital Photography classes as an adjunct faculty member at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, WV.  He is part of the Shenandoah Arts Council Artists’ Advisory Board in Winchester, VA.  His efforts with the Veteran’s Vernacular exhibit influenced the Shenandoah Arts Council and the Delaplaine Art Center in Frederick, MD to also exhibit work by regional veterans.

Gary has received a number of awards, and has works in private, university, and regional museum collections.  He has juried for a number of exhibitions, including the Vizzi Awards at the James Rumsey Technical Institute (Martinsburg, WV), and for a Black and White exhibition at the Shenandoah Arts Council.  Recently, he juried into the 2018 Cumberland Valley Artists and Photographers Exhibition at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Hagerstown, MD) and a juried group exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (Winchester, VA).  Gary exhibits at The Bridge Gallery (Shepherdstown, WV) and you can always visit his Web site,

Gary and his wife Susan make their home near Charles Town, WV.  They have raised ten children; “all are unique and wonderfully creative,” said Gary.  Their activities range from photography to carpentry, surf and skate board design, engineering, dog breeding and training, blogging, teaching piano, and more.  Susan is an award-winning canary breeder.

Come to the Berkeley Art Works anytime this month to see Gary’s work featured in our front window!  You can also see some of his recent photography on the Berkeley Arts Council Web site at  And of course, you can always come into the gallery on Fridays and Saturdays between 11am and 3pm to see what else is up in the co-op.

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