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Remembering: Alphonse Mattia

Remembering: Alphonse Mattia

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Multi-colored striped coffee table

Alphonse Mattia, Dyed Coffee Table, 1982, bleached and painted mahogany, painted mahogany, 16 x 24 x 58 inches.

Studio furniture maker, educator, and ACC Fellow Alphonse Mattia died on April 10, 2023.. He broke free from the traditional rules of furniture making which he viewed as too rigid, and is credited with leading a new generation of furniture making into the conceptual realm.

Alphonse Mattia was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and was the son of an Italian immigrant father who was a carpenter and an American-born mother. He attended Philadelphia College of Art, where he received his BFA in 1969. He pursued graduate study at Rhode Island School of Design studying under Tage Frid, and received his MFA in 1973. He began his teaching career in the Furniture Design Department at Virginia Commonwealth University (1973-1976) and continued at such institutions as Boston University (1976-1985), Swain School of Design (1985-1988), and Southeastern Massachusetts University (1988-1991). In 1990 he returned to Rhode Island School of Design as an associate professor, where he taught for more than 15 years.

Alphonse Mattia

As a maker and as an educator, Alphonse had a lot to do with moving the field forward from conservative traditions and opening up the possibility of narrative and conceptually-driven furniture that ventured outside of and expanded the historical models for furniture.

Tom Loeser, former student

Two chairs next to each other.

Alphonse Mattia, Points of Reference Series (Atlas, Webster, Roget), 1995, curly and birdseye maple, fir, poplar, painted wood, 71 x 21.5 x 15.5 inches, 67.25 x 19.5 x 16 inches, 71.25 x 19.5 x 14 inches.

“As a maker and as an educator, Alphonse had a lot to do with moving the field forward from conservative traditions and opening up the possibility of narrative and conceptually-driven furniture that ventured outside of and expanded the historical models for furniture,” says Tom Loeser, a former student of Mattia’s. His pieces are infused with color and humor, extracting concepts from both historical contexts and popular culture.  He rejected the idea that objects must be either functional or nonfunctional, preferring to create work that conveyed emotion and meaning along with utility. His work has been exhibited widely, and several of his pieces, the “Geometric Valets,” were included in the exhibition Poetry of the Physical at the American Craft Museum in 1987. Mattia’s work can be found in many private and public collections such as the Museum of Arts and Design, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Mattia was the recipient of a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship in 1986 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1984. He was elected into the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 2005.

 

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