Larry Hinkle ’00 passed the “Please do not touch” sign and plopped himself on the elegantly carved piece of furniture in the center of duPont Gallery. It was a sort of couch-chair hybrid: the rigid back lets you to sit up straight while the long, cushioned seat lets you comfortably prop up your legs.
Hinkle calls it the reading chaise.
He reassured the gallery supervisor who looked on. “It’s OK,” he called, and in this instance, it was.
Hinkle was the artist. Long used by his children in his home, the piece is now part of the UMW Studio Art Faculty Exhibition, featuring the works of 11 Mary Washington professors, on display through Sunday, Oct. 14.
A longtime woodworker and carpenter with commissions from UMW, George Washington’s Fredericksburg Foundation and Ash Lawn-Highland Museum among others, Hinkle returned to his alma mater in 2016 to teach a workshop on furniture making. The adjunct professor – and ukulele creator – also serves as the studio technician for the art department and faculty advisor for the popular women’s ultimate Frisbee club, which he started on campus as an undergrad.
His roots in Fredericksburg run deep.
Hinkle opened his own cabinet making business in downtown Fredericksburg in 1996. He enrolled in Mary Washington that same year, earning a degree in historic preservation – an interest he attributes in part to his shop’s proximity to the James Monroe Museum.
It was at UMW that Hinkle began building wooden marimbas and inviting students and community members to play instruments together, said Gary Stanton, associate professor emeritus of historic preservation. “It’s pretty amazing the way he was enriching the community.”
Hinkle went on to College of the Redwoods in California, where he studied in the fine woodworking program under master cabinet maker James Krenov. He created the reading chaise now on display at duPont soon after.
It’s comfortable and, true to its name, perfect for reading.
Every detail of the piece is carefully considered, from the flow of the grain, which follows the shape of the frame, to the vinyl underside of the silk cushion – perfect for when Hinkle’s kids were little.
“If they were sitting on it with their peanut butter and jelly or something and spilled, it wouldn’t stain the silk,” he said.
The reading chaise is one of two pieces Hinkle has on display at duPont through Sunday. The second is a
pineapple-shaped ukulele made from the wood of a walnut tree that grew on Washington Avenue across from Kenmore Plantation.
The instrument is beautiful and unique, but it isn’t especially ornate. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on frivolous decoration, he said. “The most important thing to me about these is the way that they feel, the way that they sound.”
A guitarist since adolescence, Hinkle began playing the stringed instrument eight years ago and making them under the brand name Hinkle Ukulele soon after as a matter of convenience.
“I didn’t want to have to carry a ukulele around with me everywhere. I just wanted a ukulele to be installed everywhere I was going to be,” he said. “So now my ukuleles are hanging all over the place. I have one downstairs that’s sitting in the sculpture studio, just because I’m down there a lot.”
The hobby also combined his art and music-making passions. Ever the builder, friend Ernie Ackerman, retired UMW professor of computer science, tells how his fellow ukulele player insisted they salvage a felled tree so they could turn it into wooden planks in his shop.
Hinkle has made more than 120 ukuleles in all, each of them unique. But there is one consistency. He tests out each new one by playing Autumn Leaves.
In 2017, he found himself at UMW in yet another capacity. He performed Somewhere Over the Rainbow on a Hinkle Ukulele at President Troy Paino’s induction ceremony.
“I had no idea when I graduated from Mary Washington with a degree in historic preservation that I’d be teaching here,” he said, or performing for a new president. “That’s just how my path has wound its way here, and I’m happy.”