Jere Osgood: Deliberate Design

Jere Osgood: Deliberate Design


Desk, 1987; laminated ash legs and wings; 2.6 x 6 x 2.2 ft. Photo: ACC Archives

Insect limbs, tree trunks, airplane wings: What do these forms have in common? Each is seen in Jere Osgood's furniture in our June/July 1985 cover story. The curvy span of Osgood's ash desk (1987) - with the sinuous, tapered legs he favors to this day - invites such comparisons. Using lamination techniques he pioneered in the 1970s, Osgood has crafted a timeless, signature style.

"I've continued to use tapered laminations, and I like that," Osgood says. "The legs are a mark that I was involved - a way of signing my piece before signing it." Lamination involves gluing together thin strips of wood in a mold to produce a curved form; the resulting wood is stronger than the same curve cut from solid stock. He uses lamination to create sturdy yet lightweight limbs that look as though they've grown from seeds planted in the earth.

Osgood, named to the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 1993, was an instructor at Rochester Institute of Technology's School for American Craftsmen (his alma mater) and the Program in Artisanry at Boston University before leaving academia in the mid-1980s to work as a studio craftsman. Though long departed from the classroom, the woodworker continues to inspire students through workshops and occasional contributions to journals such as Fine Woodworking, where he wrote about his groundbreaking lamination techniques in the '70s.

Osgood says the key to his success is following this maxim: "Do the designing of the piece first, then look around for the technique that will support it," a notion he expounded on for a chapter in The Penland Book of Woodworking (Lark, 2006). He gathers design ideas in the winter, looking out the window at the bluish-white countryside around his rural New Hampshire home. In the warm months, he takes those "thought forms" and turns them into "furniture forms," using methods honed over the years, as well as some invented in the moment. That's the advantage of being a master woodworker: Osgood's experience allows him to visualize the technique that will best fit the design, then follow through with profound precision.

As for the future, Osgood's greatest hope is to make time between commissioned pieces to begin work on a desk, the idea for which emerged around 9/11. During that time, Osgood, who was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, was working in San Francisco. The forms of the piece are the result of feelings and thoughts he had while marooned in California. "Of course, that was 10 years ago now," he says, "but to me, it all seems like just yesterday."

Jessica Shaykett is the American Craft Council librarian.

Located at 1224 Marshall Street NE in Minneapolis, the American Craft Council library is one of the world's largest collections of craft, art, and design books and other publications, documenting the studio craft movement from the 1940s to the present. The more than 14,000 volumes include the Council's 70-year publishing history, with all past issues of Craft Horizons and American Craft. In each issue, we visit the stacks and follow up with a craft artist we've covered before. Our library is free and open to the public, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday- Friday. We hope you'll visit.