The three-paneled screen, a collaboration by John Thayer and Julia Mitchell. Photos by Ben Scott
The three-paneled screen, a collaboration by John Thayer and Julia Mitchell. Photos by Ben Scott

Asian-style living

By Eleni Collins - August 17, 2006

Walking into John Thayer's exhibit at the Belushi Pisano Gallery is like walking into an exotic Asian locale. "I call it the study of a traditional household; how they organize their lives around the furniture they build," Mr. Thayer says of his show, the Korean people, and their home furnishings.

Thanks to his wife Jeisook, a native of Korea, Mr. Thayer became interested in Asian style woodworking after a history of furniture making. What differentiates furniture made in the Asian style from traditional American pieces is its hardware, function, and finish.

Instead of closets, Koreans have massive, ornamental chests in their bedrooms. In addition, since they eat and work seated on pillows instead of chairs, their furniture sits lower than an American dinner table or desk. The most common coloring of their pieces is different, too. As opposed to lighter browns, their woodwork is usually darker, with red and black being popular choices.

Mr. Thayer's low-sitting table made with American cherry. Photo by Ben Scott
Mr. Thayer's low-sitting table made with American cherry.

Just before entering Mr. Thayer's showroom in the gallery, viewers are greeted with two traditional colored pieces outside the entryway. On the right is a brilliantly red knee-high desk. Both ends slope upward in a slight curve, and it is finished with brass hardware. On the opposite side of the door stands a cabinet colored with a dark brown, almost black lacquer.

Once inside the room, one is stopped short by the large, low Cabriole dining table that covers much of the floor. Like the desk, it sits knee-high, perfect for pillow-sitting diners. It is made with American cherry, and colored with dyed wood and a satin finish.

Towering over the table is a colossal chest, about eight feet tall. Titled "Uigori-jang," the "large tapered wardrobe" sells for $8,800. It is made from Honduras mahogany, antique elm, and antique walnut, and finished with a low-lustre red-and-black lacquer finish. The chest opens with two large doors, and there is a drawer on the bottom.

This show was done in collaboration with Mr. Thayer's longtime friend Julia Mitchell, a tapestry artist. They worked together on a three-panel screen to combine their mediums. The structure, made out of American cherry with an antique oil finish, borders the marsh and pond scene fabric, colored with bluish grey water. Tall cattails and marsh grass fill the rest of the scene.

Born in Youngstown, N.Y., near the Niagara River, Mr. Thayer began teaching himself the art of woodworking at age 19, and has now been on the Island for 30 years. He operates his own furniture company, John Thayer Cabinetmakers, which is located in Vineyard Haven.