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The Bulletin: Featured Neighbors
November 2003

Geoffrey Fitzwilliam - Wood Artisan

It was not really the beginning you’d expect for a life of creative endeaFitzwilliam photovor. Geoffrey Fitzwilliam recalls his birthplace, Flin Flon in northern Manitoba, “about 600 miles north of Winnepeg,” as “a tough little town” where it had to reach fifty degrees below zero in the winter before the schools would close. (He remembers going out and playing when it was a mere 30 or 40 below.) Summer brought “flies as big as your fist;” in warm weather families would take a picnic lunch and watch the weekly mail plane land on the lake.

Geoffrey’s father worked as a mining engineer, and later as a mining executive, and the family moved to the United States (Blue Rapids, Kansas; Ft. Dodge, Iowa; Rochester, New York; Bound Brook, New Jersey) as his jobs changed. Geoffrey’s parents had met at the Missouri School of Mines, and the family was cosmopolitan: “Dad was a New Zealander, Mom was American, and my brother and I were Canadians. We practically needed a U.N. observer if there was a family disagreement.”

Geoffrey graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in philosophy, but decided to pursue a lifelong fascination with designing and constructing furniture. “I’d been building things since I was a little kid,” he says. “It’s seems to be second nature for me. Designing is a bonus – I enjoy working out the problems in creating a viable design.” Drawn by its instruction in creative wood-working skills, he enrolled in the Peter Prier Violin-Making School in Salt Lake City soon after its establishment, and received training there for three years. He then worked in a number of wood-working shops, and advanced to jobs with some of North America’s best-known furniture makers (Wendell Castle in Scottsville, New York; Michael Fortune in Toronto). Then, “we returned because we missed Salt Lake so much,” including its climate and skiing.

His focus in his own business since then has been on designing and constructing furniture in the Prairie and Arts and Crafts schools, following American master designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and others. His long-term goal is to continue to design original pieces and develop his own line of furniture. He works almost exclusively on commission, selling most of his furniture and wood-working projects to out-of-state buyers. One notable exception was his reconstruction of the three-level spiral staircase in the David Keith Mansion at South Temple and F Street after the mansion was gutted by fire in 1986 (see photo below; other examples of Geoffrey’s beautiful work are available at his website, www.fitzwilliam.com ). He always tries to “bring back a little more” than the customers expect.

Fitzwilliam photo 2He was introduced to his wife, Melanie, by his best friend at the Prier School, and they’ve lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood since their return to Salt Lake in 1991. Their four daughters (Kathleen, 17; Julie, 13; Roxanne, 6; Marianne, 4) are all musically talented, and Capitol Hill neighbors have enjoyed hearing them perform on the violin in the annual Neighborhood Talent Showcase, co-sponsored by our Community Council each spring. Geoffrey’s violin-making skill from the years at the Prier School plays a role – Geoffrey has promised each of the girls that, if she’s continuing with violin lessons by the time she reaches 16, he’ll hand-craft a violin for her.

 

Capitol Hill Community Council
P.O. Box 522038
Salt Lake City UT 84152

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