Galleries : Furniture at Featherstone
The current show at Featherstone Center for the Arts displays the work of six Island craftsmen, all creating wood furniture in different ways.
Francine Kelly, Featherstone's executive director, says this exhibit has been planned since last October, when the 2009 schedule of gallery shows was laid out. Some artwork from Featherstone's permanent collection is also on display. The woodworkers, artists, and cabinetmakers in this exhibit draw their insipration from their materials and also from various eras in history, from the English Renaissance to the present.
Carleton Sprague says that his work is inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement. In addition to a table and chair, he is displaying three woodblock prints in wooden frames that he made. Two of the prints were initially designed for the Natural History Museum in London. They are poster-sized wood block prints, carved in beech, which are larger-scale reproductions of two old botanical drawings. The illustrations were originally about two to three inches high, and date from 1554. They were part of the first herbarium ever printed.
Mr. Sprague has spent more than 10 years in Europe and North Africa, and he currently spends three to four months of the year in London.
David Wiley is a cabinetmaker who has been working out of his shop in Edgartown for about 30 years. "A lot of old New England furniture was made by farmers, in the winter, " he says. "Trades here weren't so specialized, but in other places you had to serve an apprenticeship."
Mr. Wiley prefers to use wood from Martha's Vineyard, or reclaimed from older buildings, rather than tropical hardwoods. His pieces reveal his enthusiasm for his materials, and he points out the dark streaks in the grain of the wood on the legs of the table just inside the entrance of the gallery.
"When the wood gets wet," he explains, "fungus gets into the grain. A large percentage of the wood's weight when it's cut down is water. As it dries out it becomes too dry for the fungus to survive, but it leaves that dark color in the grain."
Ed Swan is an artist who began his career making large papier mache sculptures about 30 years ago. Soon after that, he moved into woodwork and furniture making. He spends much of his time on Martha's Vineyard, but does most of his art work at a studio in the Boston Center for the Arts. In his artist's statement, he says: "The underlying premise of my work is that the objects should have a clean, functional design emphasizing the underlying natural beauty of the wood's grain and color."
Mr. Swan has four benches at the show. The first is a sleek, modern bench made of Bubinga wood, with the pattern of its grain wrapped around from the top to the legs. Two others take the shape of their edges from the tree's skin. "These have a live edge," he explains, "where the bark is stripped off." His fourth piece in the show is more playful, a bench shaped and lightly painted as a male animal (check the mirror positioned under it).
Richard Dunbrack uses recycled wood. "I used to fly planes for a living," he says, "mostly bush piloting in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont." He started collecting pieces of dilapidated old barns and buildings he visited on his trips.
"I thought, this would be fun to mess with," he says, pointing out the curved windows on the armoire beside him, which came from a church. He fits pieces together by trial and error.
Eventually, he retired as a pilot, and began making furniture full-time at his home in Concord, until he moved to Martha's Vineyard year-round about two years ago.
Richard Lee displays a pair of objects, stacked one on top of the other. The first is a church reliquary dating from the American Empire period, around 1830-1850. It was found in an Island church and re-painted by Mr. Lee. On top sits a small "dressing mirror" with a drawer under a pivoting mirror, which dates from the latter half of the 19th century. Fanciful zoomorphic creatures romp across the mirror, painted in Mr. Lee's characteristic style.
Larry Hepler has three different objects on display. One is a Siberian elm coffee table made up of two slightly curved slabs of tree with beautiful grain. Another is a console or side-table made of sassafras wood. The third piece, "tete-a-tete" is two round seats positioned on either side of a small central table, permanently positioned in conversation with one another.
The Wood Furniture show at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs runs through October 7. 508-693-1850.
Amelia Smith is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.