By Jenn Garbee
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David Hrobowski and the art of the popsicle stick

By Jenn Garbee
David Hrobowski makes furniture out of popsicle sticks — thousands of them, glued together one by one to construct spiraling 3-foot-tall table legs, lampshades finished in the most improbable fringe, or as pictured here, a room divider with Japanese flair, its red-dyed sticks arranged like cherry blossoms. The 56-year-old antiques dealer calls them “riffsticks” — each stick like a short melodic note repeated over and over. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Hrobowski made his first popsicle-stick piece — a lamp — when he was 9, but he gave up the hobby shortly thereafter. Decades later, when an outing with a friend took them to the downtown L.A. crafts store Moskatels, he revived his art. “The first thing I saw in the aisles were boxes of popsicle sticks,” Hrobowski says. “It all just came right back to me.” (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Hrobowski’s dining table consists of more than 20,000 popsicle sticks, most stained mahogany, some colored a saturated red as accents. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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The table is topped with glass, so diners can admire the craftsmanship from virtually all sides. Hrobowski says one of the biggest hurdles in popsicle design is patience. He can layer only three or four sticks before he must pause and allow the glue to dry. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Tables with simulated turned legs, lamps with architectural appeal, mirrors with an organic elegance — all of Hrobowski’s designs are intended to be functional. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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A popsicle-stick sconce … (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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… and cheery flowers. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Sticks that are densely layered horizontally give the base some visual heft, while sticks spaced vertically give the shade some lightness and movement. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Carol Sauvion, producer of the PBS series “Craft in America” and executive director of a local nonprofit of the same name, recently visited MorYork Gallery in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood, where Hrobowski’s work was on view. She likened the work to tramp art and took particular interest in a chair … (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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Hrobowski picked up a delicate-looking chair from its pedestal and plopped it onto the floor. “When I was putting this together, I started out with this shape here,” he says, tracing the shape of an archery bow with his finger. “Go ahead, sit.” Sauvion looked skeptical, then said she didn’t want to break the artwork. Finally convinced the chair could support human weight, she pronounced: “Kind of a genius, really.” (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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The slow pace of construction allows time for ideas to percolate. “This mirror had been hanging with the corners unfinished for months,” he says of a large two-tone piece flanked by 7-foot, New Orleans-flavored floor lamps that look like they were plucked from Bourbon Street. “One day I yanked it off the wall because I suddenly knew how to close it.” For Hrobowski, that’s the joy — the creative process. “I don’t count the number of popsicle sticks or the hours,” he says. “I just live from color band to color band.”

For more stories on crafts, design, residential architecture and sustainable gardening, bookmark our L.A. at Home blog. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
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