Exhibit explores furniture as art

February 06, 2000

Art of FurnitureBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' latest exhibit is mostly off the wall.

A few works in "Made In Maryland 2,000" hang, but most of them stand alone. The show features furniture created by 12 different artists, including tables, chairs, cabinets and screens.

Baltimore's Meredith Gallery, which curated the exhibit, focuses on furniture as art and artists as artisans. "By incorporating the decorative and fine art tradition they achieve a contemporary work of art that is functional sculpture," boasts a brochure.

The museum's eclectic exhibit includes staid, classical pieces as well as uniquely abstract ones. The artists range from self-taught college dropouts to the former furniture design director at Parsons School of Design.


Stephen Perrin's "Demi-Lune Table" demonstrates the elegance of a simple design. The tripodal construction consists of a half-moon cherry disc supported by three vertical supports, each coming to a point at the floor.

Donna Reinsel's "Big Horn Lamp" presents a more modern approach. Large as a tepee, it stands in a kind of curved spiral. Dyed gut stretches over the metal frame and the illumination within casts a rich red glow.

A few of the artists attended a reception Sunday and discussed their work. Elizabeth Clarke-Shaw explained her "Folding Screen" began with a dream. She had never worked with wood before, so she learned how to make the walnut frame from a friend.

A former drawing major at the Philadelphia College of Art, Clarke-Shaw said it took her 10 years to complete the copper panels in her screen. She painstakingly punctured the plates with a safety pin to depict leaves.

Handmade Japanese paper, called Dragon paper, covers other squares in the grids of the triptych frame. Clarke-Shaw said she grew up in the Appalachians and the outdoors inspired the work.

Jon Sutter, a Frederick, Md., resident who recently moved his studio to Hagerstown, said he fell into art furniture by accident. He began his college career studying physics and engineering and then shifted to art and writing.

A graduate school course catalog became an epiphany. "It just kind of hit me," he said. Sutter grew up building models and his father's hobby had been woodworking, so making furniture made sense.

"Life doesn't have too many of those 'aha' moments," he said. The 34-year-old creates pieces with a sense of humor, often using brightly colored materials. He combines industrial items with traditional ones.

Sutter's "Ready to Roll Sideboard" has marker lights from a large truck as drawer handles. "I try to stretch materials into new uses," he said. "I like to expand the way furniture and furnishings are thought of."

The exhibit is open through March 12.

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