Five Highlights: 2018 Furniture Society Conference
Last weekend in San Francisco, the Furniture Society held "FS18: Nexus," the latest iteration of its annual conference. Overseen by executive director (and American Craft editor at large) Brigitte Martin and education director Monica Hampton, the conference featured the field’s leading practitioners and thinkers gathering to swap ideas, stories, and, in some cases, challenges. Here are five highlights from the weekend.
Emily Pilloton delivered the keynote address at the conference, sharing the story of her journey from the world of corporate architecture and design to her current work leading the nonprofit Project H, which teaches young students the skills of design and building. She talked about leading a team of high-schoolers in building a farmers market in rural Bertie County, North Carolina, and about how her Girls Garage program, dedicated to girls ages 9-13, helps its participants build confidence. “The artifact itself is just a building,” Pilloton said of the joyously received farmers market. “People will inhabit it and use it, but it was everything that led up to that – the making, the craft, the thought, the love, the everything – that made this so meaningful for kids.”
ACC-sponsored presenter Annie Evelyn, a furniture designer, maker, and upholsterer, spoke about the roles of fun and adventure in her work. Telling the stories of specific projects – from coin-operated and vibrating tables to her work on the film Beasts of the Southern Wild to various teaching roles – Evelyn reflected on how curiosity has driven her to explore throughout her career. Her recent practice includes revisiting old ideas and nudging them closer to her vision. “With almost everything I’ve ever made,” she says, “there’s something that I want to change about it.” That dissatisfaction isn’t a problem, Evelyn makes clear; it’s an opportunity.
The panel “Craft: Reports of its Demise are Premature” had makers David Fleming, Miguel Gómez Ibáñez, Adam John Manley, Laura Mays, J.D. Sassaman, and Takahiro Yoshino debating respectfully (but forcefully) on the current place and future prospects of traditional craft. Subtopics included the role of computer technology, the responsibilities of educators, and the visceral feeling of working with one’s hands. Once consensus emerged: No tool is useful without a knowledgeable and careful maker behind it. Technology may expand opportunities, the panelists agreed, but it does not provide shortcuts to a truly beautiful object.
For more than four decades, Craig Nutt – the recipient of the Award of Distinction – has created furniture that's both technically pristine and surreal: celery chairs, tomato tables. Nutt has also dedicated much of his professional life to working as the director of programs for CERF+, helping support artists throughout the United States. The Furniture Society honored him for his dual role. Accepting the award, Nutt spoke of his admiration for his fellow makers and what he termed “Power X,” which is the ability to exist in the fertile creative zone between “confidence, faith, and denial.”
Architect, artist, and designer Allan Wexler delivered the conference’s capstone presentation, surveying the major trends of his 45-year career and describing the impulses and instincts that have led him to develop a wide range of projects. He presented his slanted dining room tables (with corrective tableware slanted the other way), compact kitchen/bedroom hybrids, and reimaginings of Ikea chairs as a way of describing his creative process. Wexler summarized his methodology: “to make a problem to fix the problem.”