Earlier this semester, students in Beginning Sculpture visited the woodshop of Coley Cato, a Houston native who creates custom wood projects. The field trip was arranged by Studio Art teacher Lauren Cunningham, with the goal of giving students a deeper knowledge about woodworking and a glimpse into the life of a working artist.
Upon their arrival, students gathered around Cato inside his woodshop to hear about his career path. Cato described how he fell in love with woodworking in college and now earns a living by making one-of-a-kind wood pieces for individuals and businesses around Houston. He has created furniture for esteemed organizations such as the Menil Collection, Houston Symphony, and Moores Opera House, as well as numerous architects and interior designers.
Cato’s enthusiasm for his work was evident to students. Scott Putman ‘26 commented, “I enjoyed Mr. Cato’s clear passion. Passion is extremely important when creating.” Of course, Cato reminded students that creating is only half of the job of an artist; there’s also the equally-important business side, which includes tasks such as networking, promotion, and accounting. When Cato described how he prices his projects, students were surprised at the degree of forethought and detail that goes into a bid. “He has to take into account every little screw and bolt!” marveled Jake Campbell ‘26.
Students also learned that the design process is a collaboration between the artist and his customer. “I learned that to do furniture you have to work closely with your client in order to produce what they want,” said Lucy Davenport ‘26. To illustrate this idea, Cato showed students the multiple drawings he creates for each project and how they evolve from initial sketch to finished plan based on conversations with the buyer. “I like how he showed us his sketches because it showed us how things really come together,” said Ellen Sheppard ‘26.
Following the business discussion, Cato toured students around his shop and introduced them to some of its equipment. “The majority of the machines in here are designed to make wood either square or flat,” he explained. Students were invited to try the table saw, lathe, and a hand tool called a “spokeshave,” an ancient tool used for making spokes for wagon wheels. The hands-on aspect of the field trip was not only a highlight for students but also gave them a new appreciation for this art form. Kailin Tang shared, “I think that we would not have understood just how much work it takes to create what [Mr. Cato] does if we didn't experience it ourselves!”