Jay Whyte

Whyte created “Pats Pink” out of African pink ivory and added legs to produce this highly uncommon form.

Jay Whyte’s life changed when he bought a TV in 1996. Without extra money to buy a stand, he decided to gather up a few power tools and spend $100 on raw materials. When he was finished, the stand he’d built exceeded his expectations. It was “nothing short of exhilarating. I knew right then that I was going to make sawdust from that point on,” he explains.

Whyte had worked as an electrician for a decade when he discovered this opportunity to be creative while still working with his hands. His career change sparked a move from “expensive and crowded” Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to a house on a 3‑acre lot in Knoxville, Tenn., where he built a studio. Completely self-taught, Whyte learned by reading every book he could find on joinery, sculpting or woodworking. In 1998 he entered his first art show, in Nashville, Tenn.

Jay Whyte

After several years in the business, Whyte had moved from cabinets and rocking chairs to chain-saw vessels and tables. Whenever he hit a creative plateau, he switched gears. A meeting with Michael Mode in 2001 inspired his newest “stack lamination” vessels.

Accustomed to tackling problems with innovative homemade solutions and eager to not copy Mode’s style, Whyte doesn’t turn the vessels. Instead, he uses a scroll saw to shape the wood into a free form and sands it down into a finished piece. He doesn’t use stains or paints to increase the complexity of the appearance of his work; each color is a different piece of wood.

His signature pieces are tables whose stunningly real-looking tablecloths are carved onto them. Inspired by the early work of Wendell Castle, Whyte imitates the nature of cloth in wood and varies the shape of table legs, the pattern on the surfaces and the wood he uses.

Inspired by many mediums, Whyte has “always marveled at the movement that glass artists can incorporate into their work. It is the movement I am striving for in my woodwork.”

This article was first published in the Summer 2006 edition of NICHE magazine. To see what Whyte is doing now, go to www.jaywhyte.com