Monday, 15 March 2010

Thoughts from an exhibition


This exhibition, of the work of about forty designer-makers, is now closed, but it prompted these thoughts about our relationship to the work of the Arts and Crafts furniture makers.

Wood is a humanly comfortable material in the ways in which it looks, feels and smells. We shape and work it with tools that were, essentially, developed generations ago. We celebrate its sometimes fickle and inconvenient properties and like to think our wooden furniture links us to a natural and living material, placing us a little more securely in the biosphere. Yet woodworking is an artifice and, perhaps, a deception. Almost everything required in seasoned wood furniture construction is at odds with the mechanics of the living tree and its properties as a harvested material. The Arts and Crafts movement strove to accept and demonstrate the material’s nature and limitations, expressing them in its constructional methods – partly in reaction to the virtuoso achievements of eighteenth and nineteenth century cabinet-making. It is an open question in some respects which approach is the more ‘honest’ or fruitful for us today, though we cleave to the Arts and Crafts’ reassertion of the autonomy of craft. In my design and making I, like others, continue that debate between nature and artifice.