Woodworker, furniture designer, teacher, and Penland neighbor Doug Sigler died—surrounded by family and friends—on April 11, 2018 at age 77 after suffering a major stroke and then a heart attack.
Doug was born in Red Hook, New York. He attended the School for American Craftsmen of the Rochester Institute of Technology and then went on to teach there for 25 years, mentoring several generations of woodworkers. He first taught at Penland School in 1964 and began building a home near the school in 1978. Along with his friend and teacher Skip Johnson, Doug worked closely with Penland’s second director Bill Brown to establish woodworking as a regular program at Penland.
After he retired from full-time teaching in 2000, Doug and his wife Kathie settled permanently at Penland. He continued to make furniture and also began building houses, mostly designed by his friend and former student Bob Leverich. Doug built beautiful houses and employed a number of skilled, younger craftspeople in the process. He continued teaching at Penland (most recently in the summer of 2017), often with his friend Terry Hunt. Their workshops were aways full. Doug and Kathie created a home and studio at Penland that was a gathering place for craftspeople from around the world.
Doug was selected as the 2018 Penland School of Crafts Outstanding Artist Educator and will be honored as such at this year’s benefit auction. There will also be an open memorial event in the Penland wood studio on the evening of Saturday, August 11.
Family and friends have requested that memorial donations go to Penland School of Crafts for a scholarship fund honoring Doug. (Please mention Doug Sigler if you make a donation.)
In an effort to convey the impact that Doug Sigler has had on Penland School, the Penland community, and his hundreds of students, we contacted several people who knew Doug well and asked them to send us a memory or a story. We received an outpouring of love and appreciation; people had a lot to say about Doug. Some of what follows are excerpts, but in those cases they are followed by a link to the full text we received.
Wood sculptor Sylvie Rosenthal
Thoughts about my dear friend, mentor, and second father Doug Sigler.
Doug taught, inspired, and encouraged countless people as an educator, mentor, and friend during his time as a professor at Buffalo State, RIT, and Penland.
Early in my time working with and for Doug, we had a conversation about the difference between a boss and a mentor. A boss is someone you work for, a simple exchange. A mentor is someone who has the other’s best interest in mind, encourages them, and holds them accountable to their own dreams. Doug is a mentor in the truest sense; for those of us Doug mentored, his words and encouragement are with us.
Doug had incredibly high standards for craft, and he expected you to stick the landing. Do the work. If it wasn’t up to standards, you fixed it or did it again. Through building houses and projects with Doug, I learned a lot about trust. Both in myself and others. In a house, you couldn’t go back and check everything. Someone else might have nailed the trusses and you are putting the roof on. You have to trust that they did a good job or you won’t make any progress. It is the same in the studio, you have to trust yourself, that you made the best decisions you could and keep moving forward. Stick that landing.
I wish I had recording of the stories Doug told. He would explain the history of contemporary American woodworking and how it evolved, his teacher and mentor Tage Frid, the ‘old days’ at RIT and Penland, C.R. Skip ‘the former boy wonder’ Johnson, old grudges between woodworking legends, baseball—the topics were endless. Doug couldn’t keep years in order and had a penchant for embellishment, but the man could hold an audience and make laughter ripple through a room.
You had to have a sense of humor around Doug. Maybe that’s why we hit it off so well. Pranks, jokes, and some trouble-making were part of daily life. It was about entertainment, levity, and not taking things too seriously, and always in the name of adventure and fun. There are endless stories and memories of these shenanigans.
Through his life, the way he worked and lived, Doug showed countless others that what you do is more than a job, that it is making a life. Doug was a dedicated friend and mentor who influenced and encouraged many. He took chances on projects and more importantly on people. I will love and miss him forever, though I know no one feels his absence more acutely than his wife Kathie.
Read all of Sylvie’s remembrance here.
Sculptor Bill Brown, Jr.
My dad, Bill Brown Sr., and Doug truly loved each other and had an inseparable bond. They were extremely loyal to each other, gave each other hell, and worked extremely hard. Along with his big personality his great attribute was his passion and love of teaching woodworking and design. There was nobody better and my dad knew that!
When I was about to go to high school in my freshman year. I knew I was going to take a wood class at the high school. So I thought what a better preparation than to take a wood class with Doug Sigler. I didn’t realize what an undertaking this would be. He decided I should make a music stand. He didn’t care that I didn’t play an instrument—that had nothing to do with it. The exercise was about the clean lines of the music stand and learning how to use every tool in the wood shop correctly. And also not the least, was to totally complete the job correctly, sanding little square rectangle pieces of wood down to a glass finish. And you would not stop until he said stop. There were many times when I wanted to sneak out of the wood shop and go do anything else, but that was not going to happen on Doug’s watch.
Doug Sigler gave me many, many gifts. These are the most important ones that come to mind: always a strict loyalty to your family and friends, work as hard as you possibly can, and, most importantly, never give up! My son Gamble was born after my father died, and as time went on Doug became an important friend and grandfather figure to my son. What a wonderful gift of shared experience, friendship and family that continued through the generations. I miss him every day, and will always love him!
Read all of Bill’s remembrance here.
Woodworker and furniture designer Stephen Proctor
Since 1975, Doug has been to me the best friend and ally that anyone could wish for. He was honest, loyal, and generous, but most of all, incredibly fun. We had the best and stupidest adventures together. He gave his all to his students, providing them access to a vast world of possibilities, and he was available to them for help and assistance wherever and whenever. The house he shared with Kathie was a melting pot of congeniality and warmth, and I am forever grateful for their hospitality. Doug was and always will be a magic part of the Penland aura.
Bookbinder and wood student Cathy Adelman
I took a workshop with Doug Sigler and Marvin Jensen at Penland in 2000, and then I took every workshop that Doug taught for the rest of his life. I even followed him out to Anderson Ranch. I love wood, and I’ve taken a lot of workshops. Doug, bar none, was the best teacher I’ve ever had. He was as patient with a beginner as with a skilled woodworker. He was the epitome of a generous teacher and an important part of my Penland experience. Not only that, but I’ve long felt that if I were ever in trouble east of the Mississippi, the first call I’d make would be to Doug. He was the most loyal, dependable friend one could have. You could count on him no matter what.
I came to know Doug in my first few days as a studio coordinator at Penland. I didn’t know anything about him and was left with a great amount of curiosity. Who was this gruff man who stood tall and even on our first meeting treated me as though I was one of his old friends who he could jostle with jokes and personal stories about back in the day?
Doug gave me the open invitation I could extend to any of our wood instructors for a tour of his property and some of the houses he designed and built alongside Bruce Anderson. A visit usually went something like this:
First we would hang down in his wood studio, somewhat of a time capsule filled with old machines and relics that were covered in dust and cobwebs, but any woodworker would know they were still tuned well and completely in use. He would always share what he was currently working on—maybe retweaking and making an old table design, maybe fixing a door for one of his buildings, or perhaps laying a final coat of oil onto one of his beefy and beautiful butcher blocks. But, before he showed us anything, he made sure we had a cold drink in our hands. For this, he would reach into his vintage Coke machine and pull out mini Cokes or Coronitas to share. Neither of these drinks interest me on the day to day, but at Doug’s I felt as though I had never tasted anything more refreshing.
The best was when he would give a small demo on something he was doing. One day he was using hide glue to set canvas on the back of some tambour doors. Another time he talked to us about the ramifications of kiln-drying wood too fast. This is the type of knowledge and experience that simply can’t be found on the Internet.
We were all shaken when we found out about the car accident last year that left him with a major neck injury. He was very strong and made a physical recovery that enabled him to continue to act like his old self. Months later he suffered a stroke that left half of his body paralyzed. This didn’t stop him from keeping his spirits up. Kyle Kulchar and I went to visit him and he was so excited to show us the saw-shaped cane one of his friends had made him. Even with the left side of his body in forced stillness, he made Kyle and me laugh so much.
What I want for all of us is to think of the things we are doing today, what we are making with our hands, and how this behavior reverberates into the world. All moments can have significance in our lives, and recognizing them when they come can lead to possibilities for growth, optimism, and positive change that lives on beyond our time.
Read all of Ellie’s remembrance here.
Woodworker and furniture designer Annie Evelyn
Doug and I had a very unbalanced relationship. A relationship in which I took, took, took and he gave, gave, gave. He gave advice on woodworking problems. He gave advice on teaching. He gave invites to dinner. He gave comfort when I was upset. He gave love. And, of course, he also gave SASS. I first became friends with Doug because I love to laugh and he always had witty response to any words out of anyone’s mouth. But the reason I came to love him is because of his unending kindness and generosity. He cared so deeply about all he loved. He always went out of his way to help me and others succeed. He is the definition of a real friend. He will always be an inspiration to me, and I will strive to give to my friends and loved ones as much as I took from Doug Sigler. Thank you for everything, Doug and Kathie. I love you both so much.
Landscape architect and woodworker Sam Reynolds
Doug was the best instructor I ever had, and that includes five years of design school. He could explain something so that anyone could easily understand it. And he cared about his students. He would recommend other classes to take and other teachers to be exposed to. He was always putting people together that he thought would benefit from the interaction. He was always giving of his time and very generous. He made learning fun. He touched a lot of people.
Woodworker and former core fellow Morgan Hill
I often push limits, I’m slightly insensitive, and my jokes can go too far. It might be a way I cope with things, things that make me angry or sad or that I just think deserve an emotion other than the one it naturally arouses because life is gray like that. Where some people might not want to make light of a heavy situation or a joke of something most people cry about, sometimes I do. This is what Doug and I had in common.
It wasn’t until Ellie Richards asked me to fill in for her during a class that Doug was teaching that he and I got close. It happened quickly. I became another one of his many students and he became a great friend. It was no time before he wanted to find me a good paying job (no matter who he had to sweet talk), was concerned about my love life (or lack thereof), and showed me that I was not the only one pushing limits. The thing about pushing limits is that it doesn’t always work out well. The other thing about it is that not a lot changes unless you take the risk and push a few. He reminded me that it was okay to laugh about things that made us cry.
During his class, Doug and the other gentlemen taking the workshop were uninterested in participating in the 4th of July parade but fully supported me doing it on my own. That is, until I had the bright idea to celebrate Doug by making our float about him—inspired by the neck brace he had to wear. We joked about it the whole day: if you wanted Doug to support something, make it about him. But I will always remember him proudly giggling and waving like Miss America behind that ambulance-disguised golf cart while a bunch of his students with their butts hanging out the backs of patient gowns trotted alongside of him.
The truth was that he was always so supportive of a passionate student and a good idea. I didn’t know a thing about woodworking compared to him, but he thanked me a dozen times a day for the help I gave in the studio during that session, even though I was getting paid to hang out with him, learn from him, and shoot the shit. After the class, his support became stronger along with our growing friendship. I hope the limits I push create positive change and are balanced by the love and support I give—just like Doug’s were.
Designer and former core fellow Elmar Fujita
Doug was a man who refused to discriminate.
He was generous with his knowledge and even more generous with his time.
I will never forget the countless hours I spent in his shop learning and working under his wing:
Just me, him, and Beau listening to Elvis on the radio,
The hum of the table saw and the sanders in the distant background,
The smell of Danish oil hanging heavy in the air
The empty glass bottles of Coke lined up on my bench.
Doug will live on in every piece I make.
His kindness will live with me forever.
His spirit will never be forgotten.
Woodworker and former core fellow Kyle Kulchar
Generosity in its purest form, from the very beginning and every moment thereafter. Three years ago Doug appeared in my life. A glowing, wise, and quick-witted giant who so easily captivated an entire room with his character. Looking back I can’t seem to recall a beginning to any of it, it simply existed. Doug appeared to me as if he had been there through every step that led me up Snake Hollow to his spotless and meticulously organized studio.
It seems impossible to explain how a relationship that began such a short time ago could have such an profound impact on me in its absence. I am one of many who feels I have a debt unpaid to Doug and Kathie for everything they have given to this community and beyond. But Doug would laugh at the notion that I, or anyone else, felt that we owed him anything. I suppose it is really all of us who get the last laugh, because we now get to be the gift givers. We have the wonderful privilege of sharing to the world our dear friend Doug. Through endless stories, mini Coronas and Cokes, teaching, learning, and making. We all get to relive those moments spent with Doug, sharing them with others for years and years to come. And, as I can still hear Doug saying, followed by his spectacular chuckle, “That’s pretty damn cool.”
Thank you, Doug. Thank you times a million.
(Thanks to Ellie Richards for pictures of Doug’s home and studio.)