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Torqued & Twisted: Bentwood Today

Aug 30, 2012
Oct 14, 2012
701 Center for Contemporary Art
701 Center for Contemporary Art
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701 Whaley Street, Columbia, SC, United States, 29201

Torqued & Twisted: Bentwood Today
Showing: August 30 – October 14, 2012

This exhibition explores the work of nine furniture makers and sculptors who use the technique of bending wood in innovative, unusual and eloquent ways.

Wood bending is typically accomplished through one of two main approaches, steaming or laminating. Steaming requires the application of heat and moisture to allow the wood fibers to bend and slide against each other. The bent part is clamped to a form and allowed to cool and dry into a new configuration. Laminating involve using layers of wood cut thin enough to become flexible. The flexible strips are clamped against a form with adhesive between each layer until the adhesive cures, locking the laminations into the new configuration.

Bentwood came to symbolize the modern movement in furniture design and it still offers a tempting territory for a range of aesthetic and formal explorations. The artists/designers in this exhibition push the limits of wood bending to create extraordinary functional and sculptural works of art that are conceptually challenging and expand our understanding and expectations of wood as a material.

The techniques used by these artists both borrow from and build upon various historical traditions. The work of Matthias Pleissnig draws from the rib and plank boat-building approach. The work by Clifton Monteith offers stellar examples of willow or “twig” bending. Mike Jarvi “unfolds” his furniture from within the plank, in a brilliant, almost origami-like motion, for which it is hard to find a precedent. Ultimately, each of these artists has refined and developed their own repertoire of techniques, which in turn results in a highly personal visual aesthetic.

The exhibition is organized by The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Tom Loeser, Assistant Professor, University of Madison Wisconsin, and artist Katie Lee, former Assistant Director and Curator, The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design

Center for Craft, Creativity & Design
Hendersonville, North Carolina
February 10 – June 30, 2012

701 Center for Contemporary Art
Columbia, South Carolina
August 23 – October 7, 2012

Woodson Art Museum
Wausau, Wisconsin
June 15 – August 30, 2013

Michael Jean Cooper was born in Richmond, California in 1943 and grew up in Lodi, California. He completed his B.A. in Commercial Art and his M.A. in Sculpture at San Jose State College before attending U.C. Berkeley where he completed his M.F.A. in Sculpture in 1969. Michael retired from Foothill-DeAnza College, Cupertino, California in 2004 after teaching as an Instructor of Art for 34 years. During his professional career Michael Cooper has been honored with numerous awards and fellowships including the Crafts Council of Australia Fellowship Grant (a year working in industry in Australia), the Rome Prize in Sculpture (a year at the American Academy in Rome) and a National Endowment for the Arts award. Michael has participated in multiple one-man and group shows and is represented in various publications, and private and public collections. Michael lives in Sebastopol, California where he works daily in his studio adjacent to his home. He typically works in wood and metal or a combination of both. His most recent work is influenced by his interest in combining organic and geometric forms with kinetic elements.

Frank Gehry is one of the most sought-after, internationally recognized and prolific architects and designers in the world today. His architecture defies categorization, but has become an icon of architecture with such projects as the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In addition to designing over 30 existing buildings, Gehry has distinguished himself with a handful of furniture designs beginning in the 1970s with the Easy Edges furniture series. After studying architecture at the University of Southern California and spending a year at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Gehry established his own architecture office in 1962, in Los Angeles. The early 1990s brought the development of Gehry’s sculptural Cross Check furniture series to Knoll International, a manufacturer and seller of furniture and textiles designed by many internationally renowned designers. The inspiration for Gehry’s collection of bentwood tables and chairs came from wooden apple crates, using “woven” strips of maple and requiring no additional structural support, therefore the decorative is also structural.

Jeremy Holmes’ site-specific bentwood installations bring attention to interior space. In filling voids of unused space, he works with the shapes of walls and ceilings and creates what he calls “abstract wood sculptures.” His work emphasizes his preoccupation with materiality and reconstructing the viewer’s relationship to objects, our environment, and the spaces between. Holmes studied at the State University of New York at New Paltz where he earned his BFA in sculpture in 2007. In 2008, he was the recipient of the Windgate Fellowship Grant from The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, which enabled him to continue developing his work exploring the process of creating sculptural and site specific installations using bent wood to engage the viewer through immersive abstract forms. He currently lives and works in Ithaca, New York.

Mike Jarvi is known as a steam bender and as the inventor of the one-piece table and bench. Born in 1952 in the upper peninsula of Michigan, he was known and worked as a residential framer and log cabin builder. Mike’s one-piece concept was conceived while working on the property of Crab Tree Farm, a complete working farm and historical collection of decorative arts and crafts located on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1998 the owner of Crab Tree recognized Jarvi had a certain flair for woodwork and suggested a two-year course at Parnham, the John Makepiece School of Woodworking in Beaminster, England. Returning from this pivotal time, Jarvi set up Crabtree woodshop and Jarvi Furniture – a place where ideas seem to form in a friendly atmosphere, design is recognized as a team sport and work continues in the “Spirit of Steam.”

Yuri Kobayashi creates furniture and sculptures that engage in repetition as both a creative endeavor and a ritual, embracing change and emphasizing process. She was born and raised in Japan, receiving her BA in architecture design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. While there, she began training in traditional Japanese woodworking and eventually moved to the U.S. to earn an MFA in woodworking and furniture design at San Diego State University. She currently teaches within the Furniture Design Department at the Rhode Island School of Design and is actively producing work. Exhibited nationally, she earned a place in the Windgate Artist in Residency Program at SUNY Purchase College in 2010. Kobayashi’s work conveys a sense of identity, origin, and experience through conceptual manipulations of shape and form in wood using traditional techniques. She has cited this overlapping of conceptual thought and traditional technique as an effort to reflect personal and social levels of consciousness.

Don Miller is a furniture designer who works primarily with bentwood techniques in making functional, yet sculptural furniture. His current work focuses on spherical shapes created through subtle manipulations of oak. His work retains traces of his roots in instrument design with its balance and seeming simplicity along with functional designs. Miller has been teaching as a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia within the Crafts Department since 2006 and prior to that taught as an adjunct professor of furniture design at Rhode Island School of Design. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions nationally and received many awards and fellowships as well, most recently receiving the Niche Award for Teaching Excellence in 2010. Miller earned his BA from the German University of Kansas in 1972 and later extended his education at the London College of Furniture in 1978 studying Musical Instrument Technology. After many years of focusing on making instruments, he returned to school and studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning an MFA in 3D Art in 2003.

Clifton Monteith has been pushing the boundaries of furniture design through bending willow, greenwood and dried twigs for 24 years. It is through his studies in Japan in the early 1990s that he developed a philosophy to making that relates to the ancient Shinto concept of spirit being in all things. His process follows that “consciousness is vested in our work and translates to the experience of others who participate with the work when it is done.” Since 1985, Clifton Monteith has been designing and making furniture full-time. He has lectured and given workshops at numerous universities and art schools, such as University of Michigan, Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Penland School of Crafts, Oregon College of Arts & Crafts, and Anderson Ranch Arts Center. In 1994, he studied in Japan under a Japan-US Friendship Commission Foundation Fellowship and returned to Japan in 1999 on a Japan Foundation Fellowship to study traditional natural Urushi lacquer.

Matthias Pleissnig’s fluid, skeletal furniture forms are made using traditional steam-bending techniques with oak. His interest specifically with bending wood first developed in 2006 after making a boat. As a sculptor and woodworker his training developed during his studies at Kansas City Art Institute, earning a BFA in sculpture, at Rhode Island School of Design earning a BFA in furniture design and at the University of Wisconsin Madison, completing his MFA in wood and art in 2009. Pleissnig has received national attention for his work and is considered one of the top artists/designers working with wood today. In 2008, he received a grant for his MFA project from the Joan Mitchell Foundation; in the same year he was given the Best of the Year Award for lounge seating by Interior Design Magazine. In 2009, his work was purchased by the Museum of Art and Design’s permanent collection and he received a grant from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. In 2010, he was awarded one of the most prestigious artist awards given today from United States Artists for $50,000. Most recently, the Smithsonian and Renwick Gallery chose eight pieces of his work to be included in the prestigious Renwick Craft Invitational.

Michael Thonet laid the cornerstone of industrial production with the development of the bentwood technique in furniture design. He was born in 1796 in Boppard/Rhine, Germany, where he opened his own workshop in 1819. In 1842 Prince Metternich summoned him to Vienna. Together with his sons he founded the successful company Gebrüder Thonet in 1849 and within a short amount of time it became globally successful and expanded rapidly. More than 865,000 bentwood chairs per year were produced in today’s Czech Republic, Hungary, and Russia. Michael Thonet died in Vienna in 1871 at which time his sons took over the company. During the 1930s, Gebrüder Thonet was committed to the construction and technology of tubular steel furniture and quickly became the largest manufacturer in the world. World War II represented a harsh caesura: the plants in the eastern regions were disowned. The facility in Frankenberg (Germany), founded in 1889, has been the corporate headquarters and production site since that time. Thonet is still a family-owned business and is managed today by the 5th generation. The company manufactures bentwood and tubular steel classics as well as new models, which are developed in cooperation with architects and designers.


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