In praising Kristina Madsen’s exquisite furniture when bestowing its 2020/2021 Award of Distinction, the Furniture Society wrote she’s a “truly exceptional furniture maker who has made a significant impact on the field through her unique way of combining classic European cabinet-making techniques with traditional Fijian carving to produce furniture that truly embodies her own style.” Madsen, 66, traces her singular designs to three primary influences.
She starts with her lineage—grandmother, great-aunts, her mother—who taught Madsen finely skilled needlework. That explains the intricate handwork incorporated into her pieces. The patterns? Textiles are an inspiration. The design components of woven, dyed, and printed patterns intrigue Madsen—whether repetitive or non-repetitive, monochromatic or polychromatic, representational or abstract.
Next, Madsen studied for four years with British-born furniture maker David Powell at the Leeds Design Workshop in Easthampton, Massachusetts. She also taught in his program. Then, after her artist residency at the School of Art at the University of Tasmania in 1988, she stopped in Fiji, where she met woodcarver Makiti Koto. She studied with Koto for nine months on a Fulbright grant. Ever since, she’s used the freehand intaglio carving technique she learned there to enliven the surfaces of her furniture.
Madsen often spends a year or more on each piece, incorporating her meticulous sense of detail while working with bubinga wood, Indonesian rosewood, maple, and ebony. She builds her furniture pieces, then hand-carves multilayered patterns with foreground, middle, and background to create tremendous depth and intrigue.
ABOVE: Photo by Kayana Szymczak. LEFT: Senechal Bed, 2018, cherry, tinted gesso, 66 x 86 x 66 in. Photo by Stephen Petegorsky.
The artist’s dedication to her craft, forging her own path through independent practice, has earned her numerous fellowships. Madsen’s work is included in collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; the Yale University Art Gallery; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. This year, she is also an inaugural recipient of the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation’s Awards in Craft.
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