As an artist, as a person, I have always been given to making things. As a child I grew up in a flower shop and worked in flower shops through college, making all the things flower shops produce. In college and graduate school I earned an MFA making paintings, drawings, prints, books and even some sculpture. Since then, my art activities have focused on making large and small sculptural objects and installations. Since 1992 my art has been largely functional: chairs, tables, shelves, clothes trees, lamps and other things made primarily from trees, saplings, branches and other materials from nature. The “artist’s statement” I usually include with my furniture portfolio addresses my own working experience and some of the attitudes I offer my students:
Working within the rustic furniture tradition gives me permission to work in the woods and trees as an artist. Because I bring so much of the “woods” back inside with me, my studio usually feels like the cozy inside of a beaver lodge. The rustic style frees the artist child in me. It feels like play, as nearly all creative “work”, however important or sophisticated, still feels like play to the engaged artist.
When asked about my rustic furniture work, the first thing that comes to mind is that it begins in the woods where the trees are. It’s the patterns of growth and spatial relationships there that influence the designs I work out in my studio.
I think it must be true of other rustic builders also, but I find that when I look at trees now I nearly always see parts and shapes of furniture. Sometimes it’s a specific piece, exactly as will work in a settee or chair. At other times it’s the gesture of a whole tree that wants to be translated into a smaller, more manageable scale. My work in the studio combines the “signatures” of different trees to make new forms with gestures and signatures of their own.
In short, working within the rustic tradition means I get to wander around in the woods and explore the interesting, revealing things I discover there, I get to bring them back home and make new things, and I get to share the results with other people. If this is really work, it still feels like fun to me.
The “fun” I refer to includes sharing my sense of curiosity, of amusement, of harmony or disharmony arising from bringing some of the out-of-doors indoors. How that feels, how it alters the place occupied by a chair or set of shelves made of (and resembling) trees is a large part of what my work is about. The sticks I use may well be pruned, seasoned, sanded, organized and assembled, but they retain characteristics of nature’s organization, too. The juxtaposition is synergistic and the results are fascinating, enlightening, and comforting to me and, when the work is successful, to others.
Confluence and Craft
"Conflence" refers specifically to the dualities in the design of one of my tables. Two black sapling structures support a cherry top carved with two ripple patterns which converge in the center.
While craft and design are the visible, tangible aspects of my work, I always hope to share personal, intangible aspects as well. The true harvest of my hours and days in the woods and the studio is a kind of stitching together of various essences of both forest and home.
The process of capturing the intention of a new work, of organizing and joining parts and of carving the wave patterns feels like quilting together outside and inside. Breath, pulse, the rhythmic flutter of trembling leaves, water rippling and splashing, all join in the improvisational patterns which are part of our universe. It's enlightening just to see some of those patterns, and it's especially exciting to imagine adding a tiny wrinkle now and then.
I especially like what John Muir said in one of his journals, "When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
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