Missteps and Magnificence

Missteps and Magnificence

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Book photos: Mark LaFavor

Reviewing "Furniture with Soul: Master Woodworkers and Their Craft"

Ever wonder what it would be like to tour a furniture-making studio, asking every question that came to your mind? David Savage visits 20 of the most talented furniture makers alive and does exactly that. Reflecting on his own experiences as a furniture maker, Savage imbues the narrative with a thoughtful sensitivity.

While Savage highlights extraordinary accomplishments and techniques, he also details flaws, missteps, and mistakes, creating a well-rounded portrait of personality, inspiration, and studio culture. It's an enlightening perspective, with glimpses of the personal and public challenges even the most celebrated artists must overcome.

Savage illustrates the very important role of patronage and cultivated trust between client and artist, and he articulates the complex and interdependent relationship between these artists and their apprentices. John Makepeace's students at the Parnham Trust helped fabricate more furniture than he could have ever made on his own; by seeing through students' eyes, Makepeace retained a critical perspective on his own designs. Savage asks probing questions about method, motivation, and concept as well as technique and material significance. We learn not only the how, but also the why of each artist's process.

Finish, material, and form are essential to conveying an idea. John Cederquist uses trompe l'oeil painting and collaged composition, communicating the disjointed and often myopic nature of commerce and economic aspiration. It's noteworthy that Savage also includes Peter Danko, a designer who focuses on furniture for mass production, pushing the limits of laminated wood with the sensitivity and skill of a sculptor.

The book is loaded with beautiful photos of each maker's finished work, but the real insider perspective comes from the sketches and workshop photos. We see the dust and dirt in one artist's studio and the immaculate drafting boards of another. While all of the work from these masters is fastidiously executed, in the hands and minds of brilliant makers, it's clear there are many paths to create furniture that expresses intellect and élan.

Furniture with Soul: Master Woodworkers and Their Craft by David Savage (Kodansha International, $45)

Seth Keller is a furniture designer and builder in Gaylord, Michigan.