To hear Sean Behm describe his work at Upstate, you wonder what his specialty must be.
“It’s a step-by-step process,” he says. “It’s nothing you can rush through. You have to take your time and do it right.”
Neurosurgery? Heart valve replacement?
“It’s very enjoyable,” he continues. “It can be nerve-wracking, but the end product is something you can be proud of forever.”
Rehabilitative therapy? Orthopedics? … Woodworking?
Behm is a carpenter in the physical plant, and he proves that skillful precision is not the exclusive province of surgeons in the operating room. He crafted a table out of the wood from a black walnut tree which was planted the year Weiskotten Hall was built in 1936. The tree was cut down last year because disease made it a safety hazard.
Behm, 43, of Liverpool says woodworking was “something to do way out in the sticks” growing up in the town of Savannah, west of Syracuse in Wayne County. He learned the craft from his father, who was a welder, Behm remembers helping him make bookshelves when he was 8 or 10 years old. “I was just helping Dad out at that point, but it was something that was ingrained in my head forever.”
Behm became a carpenter and spent the early years of his career working for a custom deck builder, and attention to detail was critical. Since then he’s made countless sets of bookshelves, hope chests, kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. He works with oak, maple, ash and exotics such as Honduran rosewoods and South American ipe, but his favorite is walnut.
“I really like the grain. I like the dark color. It’s got the cream on the outside. New growth of the tree is what that cream color is. The rest of it, where it’s turning darker toward the center, is called the heartwood.”
He spent two weeks working on the table. Inspired by the work of George Nakashima, Behm worked up a plan in his head before putting pencil to paper.
“I love a challenge,” he says, and crafting a table out of a tree “is definitely a challenge.”
Behm’s table has become part of the furnishings in Weiskotten Hall.