Architect Sets Up House in the “Beginner’s Mind”

Werner Haker of Brevard.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

In 1995, following a long career as an architect, Werner Haker — born in Germany and raised partly in New York City — moved with his wife from Zurich, Switzerland to Brevard, NC, and started painting abstracts. More recently, he transitioned to creating assemblages that suggest spaces people inhabit — cities, houses, and rooms. Exhibited vertically on the wall, they are not architectural models but more akin to sculptural collage. Haker’s primary material is wood: scraps, aged wood, reclaimed wood, weathered wood, and sections of new millwork.

Memorial 2

Why did you begin making fine art?

I have been inspired by art all my life and flirted with the idea of being an artist when I was a young man. But I didn’t have the courage to do it, and maybe didn’t yet have anything to say. Then I discovered architecture and chose it, and instead of doing art, I compensated by collecting art. When we came to Brevard, I was still flirting with the idea of doing art, and had the need to express myself. I decided to do that with painting.

Butoh City

Why the shift into assemblage?

The elusive world of painting [in] 2D is, to me, like being a magician creating illusions. That didn’t satisfy me. Don’t ask me why, I’m not a therapist. But I wanted to build something with my hands and utilize my architectural sensitivities more directly.

Why wood?

The tactile qualities and process of working with wood are appealing to me. Various types of wood each evoke their own associations and memories. Weathered wood has an aspect of time, which is an interesting phenomenon of experience.

Memorial 1 (Samurai)

What influences your themes and composition?

The history of architecture, experiences and memories of extensive traveling when I was young, and my lifelong involvement in the world of art. That constitutes what I call my library. The better the library, the more references you have. 

Regarding composition, for me the issue of space is as important as the physical form. [Taoism founder] Lao Tzu asked, “What is the purpose of the cup?” and said, “The purpose is its void.” Ultimately, it’s only a vehicle to define a space. In painting, space is alluded to by the magic of perspective, or, in abstracts, layering and colors. In assemblages you can literally see the space.

Maison 1

Is the process equally as important as the result?

The process is the goal. Otherwise, if you don’t enjoy the process, if you aren’t interested in the making, why go through [it]? You could just buy art, which is what I used to do before I started doing painting and assemblages. Of course, if the end result is pleasing to me and to others, that’s very gratifying. But intellectually and emotionally, the process is of prime interest to me. 

And it’s still evolving — I’ve only done it for a year and half, and it’s a new language for me. But I love it. There’s the famous Zen term: “beginner’s mind.” I’m enjoying the experience of being in the beginner’s mind.

Werner Haker, Brevard. The artist’s work will be represented by 3oak Handcrafted, 222 South Broad St., Brevard, a gallery and artisan home-goods store slated to open in January ( Contact the artist directly at

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