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David Upfill-Brown

David set out in the 1970’s as a sculptor, carving stone and wood in Central and Southern Africa. Disenchanted with the then growing trend towards conceptual art he began to focus on furniture and in 1980/81 studied furniture making and design at Parnham, John Makepeace’s school, in England under the remarkable tutelage of Robert Ingham. From 1982-1999 with his wife Hermione he ran a bespoke furniture workshop in Tharwa near Canberra, Australia.

Teaching there and part time with George Ingham for eight years at the Australian National University culminated in his appointment as inaugural academic director of the Australian School of Fine Furniture in Tasmania, then for five years as lead instructor of the Nine Month Comprehensive at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine USA. He now teaches there and at Sturt in Mittagong frequently. In 2014 he will run a class at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina USA.

David’s vast repertoire of skills and techniques, only excludes spray finishing, subscribing to the traditional trade hierarchy where the cabinet maker delivered sanded work to the finisher, willing to accept a refusal if it was not prepared well enough!

He believes that to understand wood one first has to work it by hand. Once hand methods become habitual it is often more economical for bespoke or one-off furniture makers to work manually than to rely entirely on machinery. Well-developed hand skills also make one more versatile in ability and expressive in design. He does not however eschew the use of machinery. Indeed he tunes his own equipment to perform “like the first violin in the orchestra”. Machinery is of course imperative in repetitive work and he loves the challenge of developing production systems where speed and quality are achieved through what he calls, “smart jiggery-pokery”.

He believes that nothing lasting can be achieved without a sense and understanding of design. Training, teaching, book and web research, innumerable exhibition visits, contact and correspondence with many contemporary studio furniture makers and a general interest in art, especially sculpture and concrete work in all medias, has helped him build a stronger design sensibility. “Truly successful design is timeless, as an ancient example, the ‘Klismos’ chair, as a modern one; ‘The Chair’ by Hans Wegner, I strive to come somewhere close.”

Loving teaching, his greatest pleasure is to witness his students find ability deep within them. Seeing that the craft generates a powerful physical, practical, emotional, almost primal intelligence, seeing them become something like dancers or athletes, individuals whose minds speak through their bodies.

A more acquisitive pleasure is the connection of teacher and student in what he calls “the realm of ideas” plus “jumping off the deep end”, the collaborative development of a design that must speak of the student but also encourage them to embrace structural, technical or visceral territory that they may not have dared. Acquisitive also, in the sense of taking fresh ideas into his own work.

David appreciates that after forty years immersed in the craft, he still has much to learn and that this is what drives him. No conclusions; just a wonderful journey.

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