When humans need ease from walking upright, the bulk of civilization pulls up a comfortable chair. Since the early Egyptians, and perhaps longer, some form of receptacle for the human hindquarters has accompanied our lives through the ages.
In honor of this most affable and universal of furniture pieces, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, presents The Chair Show 4 and Sitting Pretty: Contemporary Wisconsin Chairs from February 2 – April 7, 2002. The exhibitions feature the work of 51 chair makers from 21 states with designs based on those from the 18th century and earlier to the avant garde and beyond.
Two Wisconsin artists – Tom Loeser and Kimberly Sotelo – will speak and demonstrate at the Woodson. Loeser, a woodworking professor at UW-Madison, presents Designing in Wood: Contemporary Studio Furniture on Sunday, February 10, at 1:30 p.m. Sotelo demonstrates furniture making using freshly cut willow and aspen on Sunday, March 3, at 1:30 p.m. Then, on Tuesday, March 5, from noon to 2:30 p.m., she teaches a willow-weaving class. Each participant in this program will take home a willow tray. The fee is $5 for Museum members, $10 for others. Call 845-7010 to register.
The 55 ingeniously conceived chairs on view at the Woodson Art Museum offer an inspired use of common chair-making materials such as wood and metal, as well as materials rarely associated with furniture. For example, Peter Danko's (York, PA) graceful Gotham Rocker sports a bentwood frame cleverly holding a series of tightly stretched car seatbelts as the seat and back. Asheville, NC artist Rick Melby assembled Casino, a 2-inch high chair, entirely from gaming dice.
The most unexpected material used in The Chair Show 4 is undoubtedly seen in Rebecca Didomenico’s (Boulder, CO) iridescent miniature, Beetlewing Chair. The reflective surface of her piece glistens with the magical blue-greens of a beetle’s back. To get this effect, Didomenico uses a rare and matchless material: actual beetle wings.
A number of chairs are created for specific tasks, reminding us of the versatility of this well-loved furniture piece. While remaining true to its form, a chair can be designed to serve those at work, at play, at the dinner table, or simply to laud the sitter’s status. There is no question who gets the most use of Jesse Stanley's (Lafayette, IN) Child’s Rocking Chair. Painted in bold primary colors of high-gloss krylon, this toy chair has all the qualities that children relate to: smooth, rounded surfaces, rocking action, and moving parts.
Michael Getzville (Ft. Collins, CO) considered comfort and mobility during long hours in a studio or workshop when creating his Wapiti stool. This three-footed, contoured stool on rollers allows the busy worker to move from project to project without getting up. Matt Hutton (San Diego, CA) understands our need for private moments, and in his Secret Safe chair, the sitter faces an attached cabinet where secrets can be kept behind its door.
Historic chair designs and contemporary hybrids influenced by them show up in both exhibitions. Curtis Buchanan’s (Jonesborough, TN) Fan Back Armchair offers almost no deviation from an historically accurate Windsor chair design from 200 years ago. A.K. Phillips (Shawneetown, IL) presents his own replica of an 1810 New England Double Rodback Windsor Chair, with a milk-paint finish. This miniature piece, with legs no bigger than toothpicks, still achieves the Windsor design’s most admired qualities: a delicate looking, lightweight chair that is deceivingly sturdy.
Among the works in Sitting Pretty, Rob Comstock of Baileys Harbor is represented with a modified Queen Anne style chair, while Shaker furniture kindles the imagination of Jim Rose, also from Door County. Rose’s work is constructed out of steel, with a natural rust patina. Wood, however, is the predominant material of these Wisconsin craftsmen, whose studios are clustered in and around Madison and in a corridor stretching along Lake Michigan.
Whether built for function or art, for comfort or concept, each chair in
The Chair Show 4 and Sitting Pretty has a unique story to tell and offers a feast for the eyes and the imagination.
The Southern Highland Craft Guild, Asheville, NC, has organized The Chair Show biennially since 1995. Woodson Art Museum curator of exhibitions Andrew McGivern organized Sitting Pretty.