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Furniture artist leans toward the wacky

March 13, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

The box of bullet stud lights jumbled among the automotive reflectors, boat lights and transformers in the artist's "goodie drawer" are ideal for license plates, according to the label.

But furniture artist Jon Sutter has other things in mind.

Perhaps an executive desk helper for the corporate downsizer. The small lights would flash, sound boxes from kids' toys would blare, and a built-in megaphone would beckon those about to be fired, he says.

"I like to step out on the edge of ridiculous," said Sutter, 34. "But I insist that all my work be functional as furniture."

The artist opened his downtown Hagerstown studio in November.

Sutter lives in Frederick, Md., where he operated a studio for the last five years. He moved his work to Hagerstown to cut expenses, he said.

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His large industrial workplace reflects the type of art in which he specializes.

"It's fun, colorful and industrial," he said. "I like to juxtapose different elements into things. I like my work to have a personable feel, yet be wacky and zany."

He crafted from wood a towering, tapering canary yellow lamp rooted in cement and topped with two 500-watt halogen bulbs. Built to shed plenty of light on his creations at art shows, the lamp is reminiscent of stadium lights and the metal masts that hold high tension wires.

The wood is sanded and painted to mimic metal, said Sutter, who is inspired by "industrial things."

"I'm the kind of guy who hangs on the electric fence around substations," he said.

One of Sutter's creations, a bright red compact disc case modeled after an electrical switchbox, features ventilation grills, a "Danger High Voltage" sticker and an antenna.

"Your CDs have to stay in touch with the universe," the artist said.

His newest "space age" piece of furniture, a "robot-like" fire-engine red end table, boasts a birch wood top, aluminum trim, a large sliding drawer and multiple legs fashioned from brushed and lacquered steel tubing.

And it rolls.

"No one would want to accidentally bump into their furniture while crossing the street," Sutter said, laughing.

He takes his work seriously but relies on a sense of humor and a "commitment to optimism" to deal with the financial struggles of being a young artist, he said.

He earned a technical degree in furniture design and construction from Genoa Furniture School in Genoa, N.Y., and spent one year in residence at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Tennessee, but he has had to support himself with a hodgepodge of jobs while carving his path in the art world.

He ended a successful stint as a contracted cabinet maker recently to focus full-time on his artwork, he said.

Success hasn't yet met him in the form of money, but he's been recognized for his work and has created "a lot of cool stuff."

Sutter was honored in 1996 with the "Emerging Artist" award at the prestigious Philadelphia Furniture Show, has work in the Meredith Gallery in Baltimore and the Washington County Fine Arts Museum, and is preparing pieces for the 18th annual Smithsonian Craft Show to be held April 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

About 1,500 artists applied for entry into the juried show, and just 7 percent were accepted, Sutter said.

He'll display such pieces as an "aircraft wing-like" walking stick topped with a "satellite dish" made from a lamp base and a mustard yellow mantle clock with a red balsa wood pendulum.

Sutter spends weeks collecting materials and crafting his unique pieces of furniture, which cost between $500 and $8,000, depending upon the size of the piece, he said.

He fills his goodie drawer and his artwork with materials for which many people would see only conventional uses, but which he brings to life and art, with his imagination.

He can be reached at 301-393-8090.

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