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Upper Valley Furniture Makers Shine at Brattleboro Museum
While press releases regularly cross my computer screen, occasionally a photo of a work of art leaps off the page, with a force that says this exhibition won’t take no for an answer. Such it is with George Sawyer’s"Wayward Bench,” above. Perhaps it will coax you, too, to head south to take in Evolving Traditions, on view until February 13, 2022 at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center (BMAC). If you go, you’ll find—no surprise—that several of the exhibition’s talented artists live and work right here in the Upper Valley.
The exhibition features the works of 15 members of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers and 6 collaborating artists. Reflecting the changing meaning of “home” and “work” engendered by the pandemic, this is not your grandmother’s furniture collection (though there might be connections.) According to BMAC, “The beds, chairs, tables, dressers, mirrors, cabinets, and other pieces in the exhibition take their inspiration from sources as diverse as the hand-hewn furniture of gauchos in the Patagonian wilderness, the finely detailed Japanese woodworking art of Kumiko, the mandala-like botanical paintings of Margaret Shipman, and the illustrations of Dr. Seuss.”
Furniture makers in the Upper Valley are well-represented. Pete Michelinie’s (South Pomfret VT) Letter Desk in Walnut, above, is a one-of-a-kind design created by the artist, who wanted a desk for himself. “The demure size of the desk speaks to how little I want paper and computer work to be part of my life. I've always admired old houses that are dwarfed by a massive barn next to it. It's a way of saying what's important to you.”
David Hurwitz (Randolph VT) is, among other things, carving mirrors, using a design he has been working with for 20 years, with colors (or not) and sizes (the largest? 44”x 79”) based on customer preferences. “My original inspiration and goal for this design was that I wanted the wood to appear as if has been twisted and bent, like taffy. People sometimes ask me if the wood is bent, but in fact, the wood is carved.” Hurwitz’s mirrors can be found in homes around the world.
Nick English (Bridgewater VT) has been working on the Derby Tea Table (below). Spare, beautiful lines, and a video shot over three days by Erin English (click here) that is nothing short of magical. The video is part of the BMAC exhibition because it shows “the complexity and craftsmanship behind each piece.” Watching Nick English construct a table is what you need with your morning coffee.
Jim Becker (Wilder VT) had a drawing of a sideboard rattling around in his files and in his head for the past twenty years. He promised himself that he’d actually create the piece at some point. “I had hoped someone would order a sideboard and perhaps like the drawing, but nothing ever happened.” Something just did. Becker says: “This show gave me the impetus to finally follow up on my promise and, as it turns out, I may even have a customer lined up to buy the piece once the show is done. The custom furniture business is like that: right piece, right person, right time!”
“Evolving Traditions” features work by George Ainley, Jim Becker, Richard Bissell, Tom Bodett, David Boynton, Jason Breen, Timothy Clark, Erin English (South Royalton VT), Nick English, Chris Ericson, Bob Gasperetti, Greg Goodman, Erin Hanley, David Hurwitz, David Lewis, John Lomas, Pete E. Michelinie, George Sawyer, Charles Shackleton (Bridgewater VT), Margaret Shipman, and Shari Zabriskie.
For locations and further information about the artists featured in this post, click here to view the webpage of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. For information about BMAC and the “Evolving Traditions” exhibition, click here.
(Photos courtesy of BMAC and Pete Michelinie, David Hurwitz, Petite and English, and James Becker. Photo, top, George Sawyer, "Wayward Bench" (2021), ash, maple, 18 x 76 x 86 inches, courtesy of Sawyer Made Custom Windsor Chairs.)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.