Rutzky Retires, Closes Wood Shop

Louisa Liles

After four years of business, Oberlin’s local wood shop is closing its doors.

The shop known as Tansu is run by owner and woodworker Jacques Rutzky. A type of cabinetry indigenous to Japan, tansu are often mobile storage units — the Japanese characters roughly translate to food storage and firewood transportation.

Rutzky is retiring largely due to financial considerations.

“I’ve discovered that really to make a go of it financially, the store needs to be open eight hours a day. Physically, I only have four hours to give,” says Rutzky.

However, Rutzky said he is excited to move his shop to his basement, where he can continue to create tansu at a more leisurely pace.

“My interest wasn’t just making a living,” said Rutzky. “It was always in the pleasure of making the tansu and teaching.”

“Wood is not artificial, manufactured or standardized,” Rutzky said in the artist statement posted on his website. “It has its own character, based on the kind of tree it comes from, its location, the weather during its life and its place on the tree.”

After Rutzky studies the dimensions, grain and other qualities of the wood, he forms a relationship with the lumber.

“Only then can I envision what I will make,” Rutzky said in his statement. “Because I work this way, no two works are alike. I work with care and attention to detail, enjoying the challenges presented by the wood as it is transformed into a tansu with drawers, a cabinet, a table, a flower vase, an altar or a sculpture. I hold the pieces together with wooden nails, glue and hinges that I design myself.”

Rutzky has been tinkering since he was a teenager, but his formal training in the craft of Japanese tansu began in 1990.

“I learned by looking,” said Rutzky. “There was a Japanese antique store two blocks from my office in San Francisco, and so for my lunch hour, I would go [to] this antique store, and they got to know me. I would buy a few small things, so they let me take apart all the tansus, so I learned how a drawer is made.”

Today, Rutzky has five apprentices to whom he teaches his craft; some are students and some are professors at the College and Conservatory. He also teaches Buddhist meditation to students. Now that he is retiring, he hopes to devote more of his time to teaching meditation.

Rutzky also said he believes the town of Oberlin is the best possible place for him to have his business.

“The attraction is obvious to me. There could not be a better spot for me in Oberlin. I’m 100 feet from Slow Train, so people can look through the window and see through my windows and see the materials.”

Sometimes Rutzky will even leave his lights on after closing for the night. According to him, this gives people a chance to examine and reflect on his shop in solitude, without the pressure of him standing over them. Students will often wander by after late-night study sessions or when the Slow Train Café closes.

“They feel like the time and space is their own,” he said. Some return when the shop is open, excited to ask questions and learn about his craft.

“I’ve made a ton of friends just being in Oberlin,” Rutzky said.