Arms, Legs, Feet, Heart and Soul

The Cumberland Furniture Guild Explores the Anatomy of Furniture 2008

Whatever set of conditions conspired to cause the most talented artistic minds of the 18th century to gravitate to the decorative arts rather than the “fine arts” is still unclear to me, but most agree that the furniture from that era represents a pinnacle of excellence. Thirty-eight years ago, when I stumbled sideways into the beginnings of my woodworking career, I knew nothing of the history of the decorative arts, I just knew I wanted to be able to make all this cool stuff I’d taken for granted up until then. During the great cultural shift of the 60’s and 70’s, young people flocked to this absorbing activity. Despite my immersion in the study of 18th century styles, the original designs that were emerging, now often referred to as post-modern, held great fascination as well. At first spawned as a reaction against the regimented, impersonal austerity of the international style, the freedom and opportunities for direct, satisfying handwork appealed to the burgeoning counter-culture movement. Since few of the new inductees to this craft had been brought up in the traditional apprenticeship regimens, new ideas abounded. There were no sacred cows.

Nevertheless, as these new makers’ work evolved and matured, practitioners of this craft did begin seeking more formal education in the principles of design and workmanship. Societies and dedicated publications began to arise. It amounted to a renaissance of the nearly forgotten skills and knowledge that had produced such astounding results 200 years earlier.

And yet, since so few new craftsmen wanted to slavishly recreate past forms and conventions, many sought to reposition furniture making in the art/cultural spectrum. Hence the rise of the studio furniture movement.

In the last couple of decades, I have come to the conclusion that the body of work from the last 60 years has risen to the level of brilliance and importance that many ascribe to the 18th Century. I’m convinced that dozens of today’s furniture makers will, with time, rise in general esteem to the level of a Thomas Chippendale or a Duncan Phyfe.

Perhaps some of those makers will even come from Tennessee, for as you will see as you peruse this catalogue, work capable of standing alongside the best being done anywhere is being done in the American mid-south.

Alf Sharp,
President of the Cumberland Furniture Guild

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