Bradford Teasdale was walking on a beach in Cold Spring when he came up with the idea for Mermaid benches. Along his path, the artist and furniture designer began to notice the surprising amount of driftwood that washed up along the shore. Taking notice of the lines and striations in the scrap wood, he began to brainstorm ways to turn the leftover logs into lasting art.
That was five years ago. In that time, Teasdale, who owns and operates Teasdale Design Studio, perfected his signature line of Mermaid benches and tables. Thanks to his observations during that one fateful walk, he now sources reclaimed Hudson Valley wood around his home base in Garrison to transform it into eye-catching furniture that fuses historic, local wood with its concrete, modern counterpart.
“I just started paying attention to what was already there,” he says of his initial moment of inspiration. In regard to making the benches, he opts to follow the natural lines of the wood instead of carving the pieces to fit any preconceived idea. “It’s more of a process of revealing than creating,” he observes.
Teasdale, who grew up in New Jersey and settled in the Hudson Valley a little over 15 years ago, cites the natural beauty of the area as his main source of inspiration. When it comes to making his time-intensive benches, he begins with the wood. He finds his “scraps” anywhere from the riverside to the middle of the forest.
“When I find a good piece of wood, I’ll mark where it is,” he notes. Since the tree segments and stumps he works with are often 200 to 400 pounds, he recruits a team to help him haul the segments back to his studio in Garrison. From there, he leaves the logs to dry out for a year or two before treating them and carving them into designs. Teasdale scouts for wood like Black Locust, Ash, and Cedar, which don’t rot and hold up against long-term decay.
Of course, the wood is only half of it. Teasdale’s true passion lies with concrete, the second piece to his benches and tables. Not at all the dingy, gray rock that serves as a foundation for buildings and developments, his cement is of such a high quality that it qualifies for a LEED certification.
“It’s a really universal and versatile material,” he enthuses, adding that it’s one of the rare materials that artists can work with in liquid form. To compose his signature formula, he diverges from the traditional recipe of sand, gravel, and Portland cement, which he describes a “not the greenest of materials.” Instead, he limits his ratio of Portland cement and forgoes gravel altogether. In its place, he combines post-industrial recycled glass and fiber glass with 30 to 40 percent cement and local sand to create a rich texture that resembles smooth, stone pebbles more than manufactured concrete.
Once fused together, the forgotten wood and handcrafted concrete create lasting furniture that bridges the gap between the environment and the manmade developments that surround it. Teasdale notes that his designs operate as lasting symbols of that partnership and of the sustainable possibility that can exist between the two spheres.
“That’s what sustainable means,” he says of his work and his commitment to using eco-friendly materials. “It’s also the longevity of a piece, how long it’s useful for.”
If Teasdale has his way, his commissioned Mermaid benches, which live everywhere from the Hudson Valley to south Florida, will outlive him by far. That’s why he goes to such lengths to craft the perfect pieces of furniture and oversee installations as much as he can.
“I make this work durable, for indoors or outdoors. It’s going to outlive me,” he declares.
While Mermaid Benches are currently the main focus for Teasdale, he also crafts art with found objects when he can. A longtime creative who began with decorative mosaic work in high school, he now uses concrete to craft intricate inlays with woodwork and stone. The process takes a long time, he admits, but he enjoys it for the visionary creativity it entails.
When he does need a break from his studio, however, he ventures to the woods for foraging and hunting or to the river for fishing. If he happens to find a beautiful hunk of wood along the way, so be it. In fact, some of his best finds have happened during his jaunts through the Valley.
On one particularly memorable occasion, he was canoeing on the Hudson with a friend when he came across a beautiful, albeit massive piece of ash. Instead of leaving it in order to return with hauling equipment later, he and his friend managed to load it into their canoe, which promptly sunk lower into the water so its sides were only an inch above the waves.
“We had to paddle back really carefully,” he recalls. Chancy as the voyage was, the ash made it back to Teasdale’s studio, where it transformed into the Jan Bench, named after the woman who commissioned it. The entire creative process took about 200 hours, but was well worth it, Teasdale enthuses. Nowadays, the bench rests along the Indian River in South Florida.
“I’m really focusing on the practical work more than the conceptual work,” he says. “The design is the art, really.”