Sunday, September 23, 2012

Equines Rule in Furniture with Soul Show

Over the summer Gallery NAGA, in Boston, assembled an ambitious international show of top tier studio furniture artists that included makers profiled in David Savage's book Furniture With Soul - Master Woodworkers and Their Craft. I haven't read the book so I won't be providing any review here, but I have read reviews and from what I understand, it is an impressive survey of top tier US and British furniture makers. This show included artists that were featured in the first section of the book. Next year, Gallery NAGA is planning on exhibiting artists that were included in the second section.

Because these are the best of the best (though, as with any curatorial process, no one can agree who these should be and many of my favorites aren't in the book), it was a surprise to me that I would have such clear and definitive favorites in the show. Interestingly, they turned out to be pieces inspired by equines. First, there is this set of Zebra Cabinets made by John Makepeace, a British artist whose work I had never seen before.
Zebra Cabinets
black oak and holly marquetry, burnished lacquer interior
John Makepeace
Seeing these pieces in person made me think that there weren't enough superlatives to describe them. They aren't just remarkably imaginative, playful, elegant, and refined, they are exquisitely perfect at every level of concept, design, and execution. "Breathtaking" would theoretically be a good word to use but it really doesn't do them justice.  
Zebra Cabinet (inside)
Zebra Cabinet (closeup)
And then there is Judy Kensley McKie's new Grazing Horse Table. No, it isn't wood, but as I've said before, I make an exception in reviewing Judy's work. It is typical of her designs in being graceful, elegant, and an original interpretation of an animal that so often depicted in art that it is hard to imagine a new take on it. She pushes the boundary of how a horse is perceived, keeping only what is essential for the viewer to understand the subject. I also like how she uses the strength of bronze to make such delicate legs and tail.  
Grazing Horse Table
Judy Kensley McKie
Grazing Horse Table (second view)
Though not a horse, John Cederquist's kimono cabinet, titled Big Kanji, is still a great piece. It is an innovative combination of marquetry, sculpture, painting, and furniture design. 
Big Kanji
mixed wood marquetry, analine dyes, epoxy resin
John Cederquist
In spite of its sculptural form, it is still a very functional piece, but what I really loved about it was the mechanism for opening the big door. There is a lever underneath the small cabinet on the right that you pull and the door swings open very gently in a way that is reminiscent of a bank vault. 
Big Kanji (second view)
Big Kanji (third view)
In addition to his phenomenal Zebra Cabinets, John Makepeace had two very beautiful and unique Trine chairs as well as a stool made in a similar style. The chairs are made with alternating layers of laminated yew (light color) and 5000 year old bog oak (a natural, almost black, color).
Trine Chairs
5000 year old bog oak and yew
John Makepeace
Trine Chair (second view)
Though this stool seems to be made with a similar techique as the chairs, the concentric circles are actually made with marquetry rather than sculpted lamination.
Trine Stool
5000 year old bog oak and mulberry marquetry
John Makepeace
Incidentally, in looking through a catalog of John's work, as well as his website, I am amazed at the complete mastery he shows of a wide range of styles and techniques. It really is a remarkable achievement. Especially considering most artists have very distinct styles that are instantly identifiable. With his work, however, the only consistency is an impeccable level of design and craft.

Garry Knox Bennett had three pieces in the show. First is this coffee table made with a nautilus shell. 
coffee table
claro walnut, nautilus shell, epoxy, color core
Garry Knox Bennett
I think the nautilus shell really makes the piece, especially with Garry's splash of color.
coffee table (close-up)
Garry also had this combination desk/chair in the show. 
vanity with Z chair
rosewood, yellow satinwood, copper, paint
Garry Knox Bennett
Every time I see one of Garry's Z Chairs, I'm amazed by the physics of them. I can't understand how anyone can make one of these things and not have it collapse like an accordion the first time it is used. But, because I know it is one of his signature pieces, and he has made many of them, I am completely confident that he has figured out a way to make it work - but it still doesn't seem possible to me, must be some form of magic.
Z chair (close-up)
A chair I did sit in, and I can attest to its absolute comfort, is Peter Danko's NoCo 2 Chair.  
NoCo 2 Chair
ash, Macassar ebony, die cut automobile tire, steel
Peter Danko
Looking underneath, you can see he engineered some unique springs with automobile tires. Perhaps it should be called a "Goldilocks Chair" because the springs are stiff, but not too stiff, flexible, but not too flexible.
NoCo 2 Chair (close-up)
Having also sat in Peter's Atmos Rocker, I can say that he seems to have given an uncompromising priority to the user's pleasure.
Atmos Rocker
ash, lacquer, automobile seat belt webbing
Peter Danko
Surprisingly, though Thomas Hucker's Side Chair looks as if a priority is given to its sculptural qualities, is also extremely comfortable. The back rest gives support, flexes, and provides the user with a very pleasing massage.
Side Chair
Thomas Hucker
Michael Hurwitz's Twelve Leaf Resin Table is a captivating combination of nature-inspired art and engineering. 
Twelve Leaf Resin Table
ash, wenge, epoxy resin
Michael Hurwitz
To get a sense of the enormous effort needed to create this table, check-out this time lapse video of the process Michael filmed while doing a residency at San Diego State University.
SDSU Artist-in-Residence Spring 2012: Michael Hurwitz from Matthew Hebert on Vimeo.
The contrast between the ash and wenge is particularly dramatic. In many situations it could be too much but with the soft tones of the leaves, it works very well here.
Twelve Leaf Resin Table (close-up)
I found Jack Larimore's Abide to be an interesting variation on a tête-à-tête, perfect for people that aren't on good terms.
paulownia, steel
Jack Larimore
Abide (second view)
And finally, there is David Savage's Perseus, a chair named after the Greek hero famous for slaying Medusa. I suspect the multi-snake-like backrest is a reference to that story. To tell the truth, I didn't try it out because I didn't feel worthy. It looks very regal (perhaps that is the British influence). I'll have to wait for him to make something for common folk before I'll pass judgement on the comfort of his work.
waxed English sycamore, Macassar ebony, applewood, and suede upholstery
David Savage
Given the impressive line up of artists that was assembled for this show, and the quality of the pieces they provided for it, I look forward to the second half next summer. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building A Canoe: Steps V, VI, VII

We'll, the cool weather has finally started to creep into Vermont and now I feel an definite urgency in working on the canoe if I want to get it into the water before it ices. Once it gets below 50 degrees, I'll have to bring it indoors to finish the epoxy work but I'd really rather not have it set up in my living room. 

Step V - Finish Stripping
I found the stripping process to be very slow. It would take between 1.5 to 2 hrs to complete a full row all the way around. No doubt it would have been faster had I just used one type of wood, or even if I had a set pattern with different woods, but, counter-intuitively, there is much more thinking involved in trying to do something that looks random; that, along with getting small sections to fit tightly, changing between drill (definitely need to pre-drill the holes for screwing down the strips) and driver, and dealing with all the clamps, it was just a very slow process.  
I finished stripping on August 18. The last row was a little tricky because I needed to shape two pieces with a bead on both sides. They also had to be sculpted over a length of about ten inches from 3/4" wide to a point but I found my Lie-Nielsen 102 block plane was the perfect tool for the job. It was great to see them slide into place perfectly. The final count was 69 rows. I had planned on using only one strip of cherry but ended up using three, one on each side and one on the bottom. In addition, I had been worried about not having enough strips but, in the end, I had plenty, with 350 feet left over. In retrospect, 1200 linear feet would have been perfect (I started with 1385) but I'm sure I can find a use for my surplus. I'm thinking of making a flat wall piece with them. I think it would look great to have them displayed next to each other. 
Step VI - Fill Holes With Dowels
After stripping, my next step was to drill out all the staple and screw holes and fill them with 1/8" and 3/16" maple dowels. I had no idea how many 36" dowels to buy so I was glad to have a local source. I ended up making five trips to Spooner Specialties, picking up a total of thirteen 1/8" dowels and nine 3/16". I didn't count my holes but if I assume the my dowel length was 1/2" per hole, I filled over 900 1/8" holes and over 600 3/16" holes -- probably pretty close to the actual but I'm not interested in finding out the exact number. By the way, fair warning to any copycat canoe builders out there, forcing the 1/8" dowel into the 9/64" hole I drilled into the basswood was not fun. It was a real tight fit because the basswood didn't cut cleanly (I think the humidity of summer had something to do with it but filling the walnut holes was so much easier). My blisters have at least healed but I still have a sore shoulder.
I needed to take the canoe off the forms early in order to finish putting the dowels in the stems. 
In addition, I didn't feel comfortable with the design of the stems. I felt they needed some additional reinforcement. Ideally, there would have been a laminated strip inside the stem that the strips could be attached to, but it was too late for that so I ended up sticking 5/16" dowels through both sides and epoxy-ing them in place. I think this will work as well as anything. 
Step VII - Cleanup and Fill Gaps
The next step was to clean it up, shape the stems, and fill any holes/gaps. One of the problems with using walnut is that it didn't flex as well as the basswood so I did have a fair amount separation on the tight curves. Nothing too extreme, but definitely noticeable. I tried to make an epoxy putty that would match the wood using PC-11 (marine epoxy) and Transtint's Dark Mission Brown dye. For some reason it came out more gray than I would have liked but it was good enough.
It took about three rounds of sanding and refilling the holes. Luckily, I have a real nice Festool sander/grinder (it can be partially seen on the right side of the last image). Between cleaning up all the dowels, glue, and epoxy, I don't think I would have wanted to use anything else. I started with 36 grit paper (touching very lightly), and worked down to 120 grit. Gil Gilpatrick said that anything smaller than 80 grit doesn't make a difference but the sander/grinder leaves a very distinct sanding pattern so I wanted to go smaller. In addition, I went back and hand sanded with 100 grit paper just to make sure it looked good.  
 And there it is, prepped and ready for the first coat of epoxy!