Myself and My Work:
I see myself as three things: a furniture designer, maker and teacher.
I am a product of the schools that I attended and where I have taught.
I have an undergraduate degree in Biology. After completion of that degree, I decided that I did not want to pursue that subject further and started a canvas products business, making and marketing my own designs. Meanwhile, I studied French, nearly achieving a minor in that subject and took woodworking classes at San Francisco State, from a senior professor, John Kassay, who was a historian, scholar, photographer and illustrator of Windsor and Shaker Furniture. At this thoughtful and kind man’s suggestion, I applied for and was accepted to, the Cabinet and Furniture Making Program at The North Bennet Street School in Boston.
At North Bennet, I did that two year, 20 month, full time training in traditional furniture making. The school ran like a European apprenticeship, with little formal lecture or organized classes. We did a series of detail drawings, a set of 8 full scale drawings, the last of which was a tool chest. Each student then built this chest, after time spent at the bench tuning tools, working in the machine room, maintaining and overhauling woodworking machinery. After the chest was complete, the student had to design and build a chair, a table and a case piece for the remainder of their time at NBSS. The designs were traditional high style American furniture designs of the 18th and early 19th centuries. There was little pure reproduction going on. Rather students were designing in the styles, but doing their own work. I spent so much time looking at the work in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that the guards came to know me. If I was to characterize the school, North Bennet is a kind place, where the environment sets the high standards that students work to. It was like successful anarchy, with few rules but where everyone behaved well. The faculty was and is amazingly generous. I remember that Lance Patterson, then the head instructor, saw a student having difficulty with an acanthus carving. After struggling of a couple of days, the student left on Friday in frustration. Lance went to his shop over the weekend, and made a carving sample of four quadrants: the drawing, the drawing with setting in cuts, the carving with the ground lowered and the carving modeled and complete. He left it on the student’s bench on Monday morning, awaiting the student's arrival. I often thought of this action of Lance’s when I was in grad school as an example of real teaching.
This training is in high level furniture making. It gives the graduate the drawing, conceptual, layout, hand tool and machine skills to intelligently make nearly anything.
After leaving North Bennet, I rented space in a Cambridgeport MA, art furniture studio. It was a 14 person shop and most of the folks there were graduates of either the Program in Artisanry (Furniture) at Boston University or RISD. Notably, Judy McKie was there. It was a complete illumination, seeing people doing free, sculptural or narrative furniture. I was there for a year and a half. I moved to San Francisco and was in a series of shops for several years.
When I was in Cambridge, I visited RISD twice to see critiques of graduate student work in furniture. After a time in the San Francisco area, I decided to apply to the MFA program in Furniture Design at RISD and was accepted. I did this to further my knowledge of furniture design and to get a qualification to teach at a higher level. I had been teaching occasionally, part time, for nearly 10 years.
My time as a grad student at RISD was an intense, illuminating period. I found the critical environment to be difficult. Sometimes, I thought that the student work was a blackboard to be written on and defined by critics. A quote from George Orwell came to mind:
“MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader”
Politics and the English Language
I had a wonderful time working with a collection of amazing students and talented faculty, but thought to my self, who is at the center of the educational experience? If it is the student, then in that critical environment, too often we were the target of the experience, not the center of it.
A prof. of mine, Tom Ewens, both a philosopher and trained psychoanalyst, thought that art and design were different forms of rationality than the verbal, the written, music, dance, mathematics etc. He was careful to be very precise in his language and thought that much of the criticism which went on at RISD was muddled since these great designers/ artists as mind, eye, hand thinkers were too often poor at describing the work.
I had a life drawing teacher at RISD, Nick Palermo, He would project slides of Pontormo sketches, for example, onto a drawing board and demonstrate how the artist would block out the forms and correct them as the drawing progressed. Nick had a dog, Midas, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Nick is a small man. One day the dog got loose in the studio and Nick was chasing it around the model stand. The models were having a hard time holding the poses as they were chuckling. Nick did not run critiques. He would help students during class time and do individual reviews outside of class. He told me that he did a series of paintings for his MFA and wrote a 5 page paper/ thesis titled something like “On Painting”. He was funny, excellent and kind.
As an artist/ craftsman who has been doing it for a while and who has taught, I often ask myself, what do I make? Things of truth and beauty. My recent work often reflects a synthesis of the craft and design training I had, informed by the skepticism I often feel, perhaps because of my earlier scientific training, perhaps because of my post catholic doubt of dogma. So I try to make work that is sensible and if possible, lovely.
I am also interested in education, specifically in teaching the design and making of furniture and other wooden objects, both practical and sculptural. I give private lessons. I also am available to teach classes tailored to your group.
I have had numerous clients over the years whom I have assisted with or done in shop setup, in shops both large or small.
I am interested in the outdoors and the sea. I have paddled the complete Canadian portion of the Inside Passage over the course of several trips and also am interested in small wooden boatbuilding.
I am available to meet with you to discuss your project and initiate the design process for commissioning a piece. I also offer private woodworking lessons, consultations for, and performance of, shop setup services.
Furniture Commissions, Private Instruction and Shop Setup Services: