A.D. and Sondra Tonnessen have been lovers of art for their whole lives. Along with formal art training and college degrees, each has had a lifetime of work in art, architecture and construction. Partners since the 1970’s, A.D. who was born in Norway and Sondra who was born in Colorado have collaborated on a wide variety of project. A love of exploration has fueled a lifetime of adventures and moves that have taken them all over this amazing country. However, they have always had the greatest fondness for the beauty and landscape of the West so it has been a primary influence on everything they do.
A master craftsman and artist, A.D.’s creative process and experimental nature is not limited to one style or technique. Whether simple or complex, every piece of furniture is handcrafted with the utmost care in order to express the natural form and beauty of the materials used. His innovative use of special techniques like layering slabs, inlays of precious materials and unique joinery yield exceptional pieces of functional art. His design efforts have been recognized and appreciated by many satisfied clients and has received praise from fellow artists and craftsmen.
A.D. uses solid slabs of wood, not plywood or veneers. Function, design and budget determine his choice of wood for each piece. His favorites are the native hardwoods of North America. Though many find it hard to work with, Mesquite is a personal favorite. He has always found it to be one of the most beautiful hardwoods due to its wild grain and its ability to receive an exquisite finish. It is featured in many of his finest pieces.
A variety of techniques make his pieces stand out. He often uses wood with a live edge (natural edge), as opposed to straight cut lumber. For tabletops, A.D. invented special joinery utilizing edges and cracks in wood which yield large surfaces. The joints flow and curve naturally through the pieces. He also uses inlays of silver and gold, semi-precious stones, turquoise, decorative paint and special lighting techniques to add dimension and beautiful detail.
Because of the attention to detail, the selection and preparation of the hardwoods, the complexity of the joints, the satin smooth finishes and the exceptional design, each of these projects require time and thus have higher prices. However, he also crafts furniture using more simple joinery and more common local woods which lowers the cost.
Concern for the environment is essential in this day and age. The hardwoods A.D. uses are mostly self-harvested and/or dead trees. Occasionally, an extraordinary slab comes from a local supplier. He takes pride in giving the wood a “second life” where it can serve your needs for many generations.
Finishes and Finishing Techniques
The type of finish used depends entirely on the type of wood and the function of the piece. For hardwoods, a special oil formula is used to penetrate deeply into the surface, creating a remarkable depth and tonal quality to the wood. It also maximizes the natural color, grain patterns and luster of each piece. Lastly, the appropriate multilayered top coat is hand-applied. The result is an ultra-smooth surface which is both durable and luxurious.
Recognition and Awards
AD Tonnesen’s work has a signature style that has received accolades and awards in various woodworking shows. His awards include: Best Western Spirit, Most Inventive Use of Materials and Best of Show.
He has been featured at the prestigious Western Design Conference as well as numerous juried furniture and art shows.
Stained Glass Artist
Sondra learned stained glass from A.D. soon after they met and developed a love and appreciation for the artform. She has always had an attraction to more interesting and original designs. After honing her skills, she began teaching classes at the local university and always encouraged her students to be creative while still utilizing good design principles and the best techniques of construction.
Stained Glass Application
Sondra makes original panels for a variety of stained glass applications including doors and windows. Some of her glass pieces have been installed into doors crafted by A.D and others installed in manufactured or existing doors. Windows can also be retrofitted into an existing window sash or just installed in front of the existing glass.
Choosing the right glass is critical. Every piece of glass is selected for its specific qualities like, pattern, color and light transference. Color, however, is the strongest element in stained glass and so it requires extra consideration because the intensity of the color changes depending on the light source. Color can be bold and striking inside the building when there is direct sun outside, mild and softly glowing when lit from a porch light at night and reflective when there is no backlight at all. So the choice of glass is very important.
Much of Sondra’s stained glass work uses traditional “came techniques”. Different came widths are used to create strong border patterns and to highlight and define center designs. Copper foil techniques are used to give more organic style to a panel and are often combined with came in the borders which gives visual and structural strength to the piece.
Nature, museums, tribal art and fellow artists and craftsmen are sources that inspire both A.D. and Sondra. If the piece is for a specific client, seeing the environment in which it is to be installed is important. Responding to their color preferences and design style is always necessary.