Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers: Evolving Traditions

October 23, 2021 - February 13, 2022

“Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead or what use it will make of our anguished searching. The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something—an object or ourselves—and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.”

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

With this quote, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship founder Peter Korn began his memoir, Why We Make Things And Why It Matters; The Education of a Craftsman.

The Becker quote and the Korn book both name the urge that burns inside the bellies of the woodworkers whose creations you see in this exhibit.   

The Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers represents the most devoted professional woodworkers in our region, men and women who work their craft not simply as a passion or means of expression—though it is both of these—but as their livelihoods. It is a career fraught with physical, mental, and emotional stresses while promising modest financial returns. Yet this is what they chose. They choose it again day after day after month after year, and they drop what they make into the confusion of a scattered world.

Combined, these makers represent over five centuries of experience as wood workers. The traditions and values embedded in their work represent many centuries more. 

Furniture is by its nature scaled to the human body.  A chair found comfortable by an ancient Sumerian merchant would probably suit a 21st-century software designer.  

Furniture is also made by a human body.  The hands that crafted the ancient chair would be indiscernible from those that made the pieces here. The hearts, minds, and even some of the tools would be recognizable across the millennia to these makers. Each piece of wood and client a familiar problem to solve. Every triumph a reason to return to it in the morning. If somehow an artisan of each epoch found themselves at the same workbench, they would soon be working together. And who is to say they don’t?

Wood is a ubiquitous material and a medium of basic function as well as tremendous versatility and natural beauty. We experience furniture with our whole body and imagination, and even our sensuality. Wood begs to be touched. Evolving Traditions highlights the creative energy and fresh thinking that Guild members are bringing to their work with this gorgeous, confounding material—the flesh of treessome ancient, once alivethat knew the sun and the wind and the soil.

Handmade wood furniture is a never-ending negotiation of design trends, the needs of clients, and each artisan’s relationship to the natural world. One cannot work with wood for long without gaining an awareness and connection to its forest origins. The artisans in this exhibit deftly balance beauty, function, and relevance around three core ideas. 

Greg Goodman, Charles Shackleton, David Hurwitz, George Sawyer, and George Ainley are spinning new statements from traditional forms. Seats are widened or canted for comfort; lines are attenuated, creating a sleeker, more modern aesthetic; woods are stained with a modern color palette or paired with other media. 

Jason Breen, Bob Gasperetti, and Chris Ericson are inspired by wood’s most natural state as trees, utilizing branches, logs, and vines—creating works that rely upon the wood’s grains, textures, and patterns. 

Richard Bissell and John Lomas have changed their practice to accommodate an increased ecological consciousness. All Guild members are invested in the preservation of our global forests and are doing their part by refusing to work with exotic woods of unknown provenance as well as investigating the logging practices that produce the local and regional hardwoods featured so often in the work they do. As long as our forests remain sustainable, so will the joy and the mystery of woodcraft.

— Tom Bodett, President, HatchSpace

Evolving Traditions is a production of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. We are grateful to Timothy Clark, Greg Goodman, Tom Bodett, and Charles Shackleton for their leadership in creating the exhibition.

ARTISTS

George Ainley
Jim Becker
Richard Bissell
Tom Bodett
David Boynton
Jason Breen
Timothy Clark
Erin English
Nick English
Chris Ericson
Bob Gasperetti
Greg Goodman
Erin Hanley
David Hurwitz
David Lewis
John Lomas
Pete E. Michelinie
George Sawyer
Charles Shackleton
Margaret Shipman
Shari Zabriskie

RELATED EVENTS

October 23, Saturday, 11 a.m. — Opening of New Exhibits
December 5, Sunday, 2 p.m. — Studio Visit: Richard Bissell Fine Woodworking
January 12, Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. — HatchSpace Lathe Demo

RELATED RESOURCES

Virtual Tour (coming soon)
Installation shots
Ask the Artist!