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The Craft of Design: Thomas Moser

The Craft of Design: Thomas Moser

The Craft of Design: Thomas Moser

December/January 2013 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Furniture Wood

In 1972, Thomas Moser gave up a professorship at Bates College to make furniture full time. Pondering what to call his wood-shop – The Dovetail? The Mortise and Tenon? – he settled on his own name, with a twist.

“I’m a great lover of American antiques,” he says. “A lot of [19th-century] furniture makers put paper labels on their work, and it would always be Jas. for James, or Wm. for William, or Chas. for Charles. I thought, well, how about T-H-O-S?” 

Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers had a quaint, old-fashioned ring to it, reflecting the kind of furniture he strived to make –solid, timeless, built to last. It turned out to be marketing gold: Potential customers were drawn in by that charming image, then responded to the functionality and clean, modern aesthetic of the pieces. Through word of mouth, and a highly effective little ad that ran regularly in the New Yorker for more than 25 years, he steadily grew his Auburn, Maine-based business into a local, then regional, and now national brand, with showrooms in New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and four other cities.

Moser still makes prototypes by hand – “you cannot design a chair on a piece of paper” – though his son, David, has taken on some of the designing. His 134 employees include some 70 craftsmen on the workbench. “I have wonderful people. You know, the work ethic in Maine is very strong, still. There’s enormous pride. Every piece is signed by the person who made it. And the amount of time that goes into that signature [piece] is unbelievable.”

While he loves working expressively (he sculpts in clay in his spare time and dreams of traveling to Italy to cut marble), Moser always knew he needed to make a salable product as much as a personal artistic statement. “I had no choice. With four kids and six of us to feed, I had to earn a middle-class living. I couldn’t just explore my creative impulses. I had to harness them to some kind of an economic underpinning,” he says. “And I had no problem with that. Never have.”

Click here to read our extended interview with Thomas Moser.

Click here to read more profiles of designer/craftspeople.

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft's contributing editor.

 
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