Newsletter Winter 2008

Excerpts from our Winter Newsletter

From Gallery Director David Mac Laren in Sweden for JoINT - an International Arena for Woodworking Culture 2008

From different parts of the world we are gathered together for JoINT, an International forum for making public seating for the town of Mariestad, Sweden, in early May, when spring is in full swing, with long hours of sun light, and twilight in the evening until 10 pm. There are three of us from Australia: Matthew Harding, a very highly regarded furniture maker and sculptor; Tracy Gumm, a recent graduate of the Australian School of Fine Furniture in Launceston,Tasmania, and myself.

We are meeting for the first time two makers from Japan, Kenji Komatsu, and Yuko Yanagihara; two artists from Dakar, Senegal, Kemzo Malou and Babacar Niang; and four artists from Sweden; Lars Apelmo, Peter Hellqvist, Hiromi Ballantyne, and Graham Stacey. And there were an equal number of assistants, mostly third year students. (As well as a few who just dropped by after completing their year’s studies and making, from Denmark, from Holland . . .) We are gathering at Per Brandstedt’s home, workshop, and recently completed gallery and café. How did this come about?

Per Brandstedt is a Swedish woodworker who lives in Kjeckestad, a farming community only a few kilometres outside the town of Mariestad (pop 24,000). Located on the highway from Stockholm to Gothenberg, on the southern end of the largest lake in Europe, Mariestad was settled in the 1500’s. Per contacted me in 2002 to have an exhibition at the Gallery, which we agreed to after Per was able to get funding for the freight component from Sweden. The freight issue has always been a stumbling block for International exhibitions for commercial galleries. This was the first Exhibition at the Gallery featuring an International artist. It was also the first exhibition to be held in the Foyer space. I constructed a three-sided display setting for this exhibition. The “set” is still there.

Per and his partner and visual artist, Gunilla Cedmar, visited me for the exhibition opening in October 2003. This was Per’s second trip to Australia, the first was in the late 80’s after spending a year in Japan, at a woodworking school there. In that same year he travelled to the USA, visiting galleries and wood workers. I visited Per and Gunilla in July 2004 for two delightful weeks of summer in Sweden. Per took me to the De Capo School in Mariestad, and the Carl Malmsten School for furniture and design in Stockholm. Our conversations often dwelled on the craft scene in Australia and Sweden, and in particular, the role and importance that Bungendore Wood Works Gallery plays in Australia.

It is typical of Per’s generous outlook to state a number of times that he felt the Wood Works was the “best in the world.” What intrigued him was the thought that such a gallery could be established in Sweden, in Stockholm. He wondered if I would be interested in establishing such a gallery. And hence began a series of conversations that ensued between us on this trip, and my next three visits over the following three years. We discussed the seeming differences of the woodworking scene in Australia and Sweden. Sweden has a rich tradition of crafts in wood, and there is often an attempt to integrate that tradition into the contemporary scene.

This is difficult to translate to the wider world, and even to the Swedish buying public. A second and more difficult issue is that there are a few “big names”, icons of woodworking such as Carl Malmsten and Bruno Mathiesen. The buying public often think they are supporting the craft tradition by purchasing manufactured furniture of the “icons”, and contemporary makers find it difficult to get recognition. In both regards, Australia is better situated. I did mention that if I were to open a gallery in Stockholm, it would need to exhibit woodwork from all Scandinavian countries. It is always important to “reach out” to be inclusive. You derive much better depth, and variety, and hence appeal. As our conversations progressed, I said I thought he could set up a gallery right at his home and site of his workshop in Kjeckestad. I said, people will come to you. Why not build a gallery here, next to your workshop and home. I think that is the perfect arrangement, and it completes your story: family and work integrated as one.

Per had just turned 50 after my second or third trip, and I reflected that I built my gallery when I was fifty. One can achieve so much in that “last” fifteen years of “official” work life, I said, and you need to think of employing people too. That is the only way to repay a substantial loan. Per rolled his eyes. Ah, too difficult. The paperwork, the insurances, the costs. And taking out a big loan, its just not done in Sweden, especially for a woodworker, a furniture maker. But the thoughts were planted. Two or three years ago Per’s daughter Anna, who was trained as a pastry chef, had the dream of opening her own pastry shop and café. Bold ideas grew from a few ideas, well considered. They would build a gallery; it would have a café with a fully fitted out kitchen for pastry and café food. There would be a gallery that Gunilla would run, and it would be open five days of the week.

So now the gallery, café and pastry kitchen is complete, completed in time for the beginning of JoINT. This is the brainchild of Per, who seems to have the capacity for doing many things at once.

Wednesday 16 July 2008