After months of snowbound isolation, a new crop of artists came out of the woodwork — or their woodworking shops in some cases — for the latest exhibit at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. “Take a Seat: The Chair Show” features work by more than 30 artists, many of whom have never before participated in a show at the arts campus’ Virginia Weston Besse Gallery. The current exhibit, which kicked off with an opening on March 15, represents a pretty specific theme, but shows a wide range of interpretations, from full-size functional chairs to miniature decorative chairs, and paintings, photos, and sculptures featuring the popular furniture.
Starting with an everyday object, many of the participating artists have created something far from common, including once-forgotten chairs that have been given new life by some very creative individuals.
“I thought about how much the Island reuses, recycles, and presupposes,” says Featherstone assistant Veronica Modini, who came up with the theme and curated the show. “I thought that the chair was one single item that artists could use to demonstrate their creativity.”
Ms. Modini has made her own contribution to the show in the form of an overstuffed chair from a thrift shop, whose cream-colored upholstery has been given a modern look with splashes of pink and gray fabric dye.
Others have taken a similar approach, starting with the ordinary and making it something special. Artist Victoria Haeselbarth started with a discarded metal stool/chair that she rescued from the street. “I brought it home, and my son Wesley and I spray-painted it blue,” she says. “I looked at it and thought, ‘Why the heck did I drag that thing off the street?’” However, like any stray, all the stool needed was a little extra attention to make it presentable. After a home saltwater aquarium provided the inspiration, Ms. Haeselbarth painted a variety of marine life over the chair’s surface — and it’s now a welcome addition to her kitchen.
A handful of local woodworkers are also represented in the show. Cabinetmaker Patrick Mitchell’s contribution is a straight-back chair with rush seat. He has been experimenting lately with furniture making. “I never built a chair before,” says Mr. Mitchell. “I started fooling around with jigs for bending.” What he discovered, over the course of nine trials, was that there are a lot of technique and engineering skills involved: “It was total trial and error.” The finished product features some nice design elements, like inlaid pieces on the back slats.
Rich Brown, a boatbuilder by trade, fashioned a piece titled “Winged Chariot.” Mr. Brown said, “I wanted to whittle wings, but I had no idea what to put them on.” He settled on a small chair with working wheels. Sitting next to Mr. Brown’s mini chair is an ornately carved high chair made from two types of wood by Will Reimann. The working chair was constructed many years ago for Mr. Reimann’s infant son, who is now an adult. The lovely piece has the look of an antique from the days when form and function were given equal weight.
Among the depictions of chairs by local artists is a large painting by Jack Green that incorporates a shadow of a lattice-back chair; tiny watercolors of interior scenes with chairs by Jean Cargill (who is mostly known for her natural history paintings); photographer L.A. Brown’s iconic photos featuring a chair incongruously placed in outdoor settings; and small bronzes of seated figures by Audrey van der Krogt.
Acrylic and watercolor artist Jerry Messman appropriated a child’s chair for his work of art. With acrylic paint, he completely covered the small wooden chair with a decorative bark pattern. “I love texture,” he says. “I like taking an object and making it look like something else. I thought a wood bark pattern would be appropriate for a chair.” His piece is named, aptly enough, “Bark-a-Lounger.”
A quartet of mini chairs by Hannah Beecher is one of the most eye-catching displays in the exhibit. Ms. Beecher has constructed four different little chairs (about the right size for a teddy bear) from driftwood and branches. Each has either an upholstered seat or a caned bottom. They are charming little works of art that received a lot of attention at the opening on Sunday night.
The show offers great variety and a nice glimpse at the range of talent to be found among Vineyard artists and artisans. Artist Pat Albee has participated in a number of Featherstone shows, although she did not have a piece in the chair exhibit. “I think it’s wonderful how they think outside the box and try to incorporate the whole community,” she says.
“Take a Seat: The Chair Show” is open daily from 12 to 4 pm through Wednesday, April 8. For additional information, visit featherstoneart.org.