Things of Tone and Wood

Canberra Times, Times 2, Friday 25th January, 2008

by Ron Cerabona

Furniture can be regarded as simply functional: somewhere to, literally, hang your hat, or put up your feet, or eat dinner, or just sink down in front of the television after a hard day at work. But the best of it is more than that. It can also be a work of art, something to admire in and of itself.

Bungendore Wood Works Gallery wanted to do something to encourage this latter perception and to give craftspeople a chance to display their talents, with the opening exhibition in their 25th anniversary year, Studio Furniture 2008, which opens tomorrow.

Exhibition coordinator Stan d'Argeavel says, "It's a bit of special exhibition. We decided to encourage makers to do some furniture slightly on the edge of the envelope... Furniture can be slightly straightforward. In Studio Furniture, we wanted to go on the edge on the line, on the cutting edge of design ... a little bit different, something you don't see often."

To encourage entries, a competition was launched around Australia and internationally last year with $10,000 in prize money. One hundred and twenty entries, in the form of photographs, were, received by the closing date of December 14 from around Australia, with one coming from David Haig in New Zealand and one from expatriate ACT woodworker David Upfill- Brown, also a former head of the School for Fine Furniture in Launceston, and now a resident of Maine. Both are included in the exhibition.

The selection panel - Bungendore Wood Works Gallery artistic director David Mac Laren, Australian Wood Review editor Linda Nathan, and that magazine's publisher, Raf Nathan - chose 56 pieces by 51 woodmakers for inclusion in the exhibition. The winning entries will be judged by Neil Erasmus, former head of the School for Fine Furniture in Launceston in Tasmania -and announced on Saturday. First prize is $5000, second is $3000, and third is $2000.

"In this case, the competition was non-acquisitive," d'Argeavel says, "and all pieces in the exhibition are for sale".

The pieces had to have been made in the past 12 months and not have been previously exhibited, although a few small exceptions were made in the case of students, he says. "We've got people exhibiting very early in their careers and people towards the end of their careers: a good range of workers and a good range of pieces.

The items in the exhibition are still functional furniture, he says - that was one of the criteria – but the shape and design are not seen every day. "They cover a wide range," d'Argeavel says, "from stools, chairs, and formal dining tables to chests of drawers, lighting, bookshelves and desks. "There are pieces inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Krenov and Sam Maloof, iconic and influential designers: Some Makers used elements inspired by them in their designs."

Although the objects made had to be predominantly made of wood, other materials could be incorporated -indeed, this was encouraged. One particularly interesting piece from this perspective, d'Argeavel says, is The Mississippi Box, a jewellery box cast by Martin Davis, from the Melbourne suburb of Ripponlea.

"It's a resin box with wooden drawers ... the timber came from American walnut and embedded in the lid are an Elvis Presley keyring and spent pistol cartridges."

These "extra” materials came from the genuine South and were sent to Davis, d'Argeavel says. "It's an interesting piece when you look at it from an artistic point of view, a concept piece."

Another "exceptional" piece was that by New Zealander David Haig, made of steam-bent American sycamore which has to be heated to a certain point before it can be shaped. "It's a light colour... there's not a lot of grain or figuring."

The piece is a rocking chair, "an exceptional looking piece ... futuristically styled, but it harks back to the old original idea of a rocking chair".

One of the four woodworkers from the ACT region exhibiting is Gino Monteleone, from Hall, whose Round to Round is an extension table which, as the name implies, is somewhat different from most.

"Normally extension tables are square and become rectangular: in this one, the segments lift up, and it goes from four seats to eight seats. It's built in eight segments with eight seating places in blackwood, redgum and eucalyptus veneer." d'Argeavel says the gallery is very pleased with how well the exhibition has turned out, both in the quality and the range of work included, as a start to its 25th anniversary, which will lead up to the major exhibition for the year, of cabinet makers, in September.

The Studio Furniture 2008 Exhibition opens at Bungendore Wood Works Gallery on Saturday, at 2.30pm in the Octagon Art Space, when the winners will be announced. The exhibition continues until April 2. Open Monday-Sunday, 9am-5pm. Phone: 6238 1682.

Thursday 13 March 2008