Through raging bushfires and the current global pandemic, David Mac Laren OAM (BA '66) and his woodworks gallery have lived and thrived to tell the tale.
In the early 70s, David Mac Laren was pursuing a career as a playwright in Manhattan. A few of his works had been staged at the all amateur New York Theatre Ensemble in the Lower East Side. But he felt that writing wasn't really his calling.
"I was living on Lexington Avenue and 27th Street at the time, and just a block away, I discovered a gallery called Impressions in Wood. A sign on the door said an apprentice was needed," said David.
When he found out there was a furniture making workshop in the basement, he was hooked. Working with other enthusiastic wood makers set him on his career journey as a maker of fine wood. In 1983, he founded Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, which has established itself as a leader in woodcraft and studio furniture. Australia's foremost designers in wood and leading artists from every state and territory exhibit and promote their work at the gallery.
The bushfires that started just before Christmas 2019 forced closures on the Kings Highway for six to eight weeks. Instead of dwelling on the impact of this on his own business, David decided to focus on the plight of the artist community in Braidwood and the South Coast, who were impacted in a much bigger way.
"We started a series of gallery newsletters that communicated on an emotional level with our clients. Many people responded to our narratives of artists on the South Coast who lost everything."
Even during that time of road closures, several significant purchases were made from his gallery by phone and email, and his business continued to do fairly well.
"I believe that by telling the stories of others, we were able to keep focussed in a positive way, and that brought us closer to our artists, and to our visitors."
David draws from experiences like these when he offers advice to small businesses and artists who are struggling due to COVID-19.
"A crisis calls for leadership, and rising to the occasion," said David. "Look for opportunities, and keep busy; make it better, always make it better. In so doing, one avoids the anger and self-preoccupation that can immobilise us, with a sense of defeatist apathy."
In 2018, David was awarded an Honorary OAM for his services to the art of woodwork, and to the community of Bungendore.
He believes this is the time when communities can come together to support artists and small businesses.
"I hope these times will lead us to appreciate important things, such as Australian design and Australian art. I think there is intention out there, and an awareness of values."
His gallery is connecting with the ANU alumni community on social media using #shopANUalumni to showcase and promote their artwork products.