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“We Made It!” – MassArt’s First Furniture Design Graduates at the North Bennet Street School

Liz Welch, Untitled Rocker 72. Bending plywood, wood veneer, white oak, upholstery.


By Puloma Ghosh

Boston, MA – “We Made It!” — now open in the gallery at the North Bennet Street School — features the work of the first three graduates of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the North Bennet Street School’s collaborative degree program in furniture design, just established this year. The North Bennet Street School, established in 1881 as a trade school for crafts, has had a long partnership with The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, which was established only several years prior in 1878.

Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, president of North Bennet Street School, explained that in the past few years, “There have been a lot of people coming back and forth — designers wanting to know more about how to make, and makers wanting to get skills to design because they have these fabrication skills and they want to learn how to design. So that finally led, a couple years ago, to a joint program in furniture design, where we would teach the technique and they would teach the design or the conceptual aspect of it.”

The results are a series of furniture pieces that are technically neat and sturdy, and unique and experimental in their design. The three artists, Heather Dawson, Liz Welch and Sue Muller, have created furniture with clear stylistic personality that are both impressive in their technique and innovative.

Sue Muller’s work incorporates features of nature into wood with precision. Her goal to create movement in static forms comes through in the curves and organic shapes that create the form of her furniture. “Lily,” a small table comprised of a round glass tabletop, is set on top of curved wenge that imitates the shape of a blooming lily. The grain on the wood is reminiscent of the spots that speckle the petals of the flower. The symmetry and smooth curves of the table show her skill in manipulating wood, and give it the movement of a flower blooming in front of your eyes. Another notable piece of hers is “Bloom,” a larger table designed to transition smoothly from a half-round to a circular table by adding wedges like petals bringing a flower from bud to full bloom.

Liz Welch’s work, in contrast, has a more industrial, yet experimental feel to it. The aluminum in pieces such as “Process Table No. 1” looks as though it’s dripping and forming pools of silver like melting icicles. The furniture that uses aluminum in this way, although functional, has a much more loose, conceptual feel to them. In the gallery, the unique lines and use of metal can be very distinctly identified as her work. Unlike these pieces, her chair, “Untitled Rocker,” stands out in its crispness. The angles and curves of the chair are smooth, and although the colors are reminiscent of the 1980s, the neatness of the piece shows a great mastery of the craft.

Heather Dawson’s woodwork towers above the other pieces, and glows with technical ability. “Toboggan,” a full sized oak and walnut toboggan stands about five feet tall, leaning against a brick wall as though it was set aside on a winter evening at an idyllic snowy cabin. The wood has a golden sheen to it and an impressive curve at the head of the massive sled, similar to a scrap of shaved wood curled on a workbench. Next to it, her “Folding Drafting Table” stands even taller, with a massive smooth wooden drawing board tilted upwards—any artist or designer’s dream workspace. At first glance, the size and shape is reminiscent of a grand piano. The notches in the back make the angle of the board very adjustable, and the piece itself is above all, clean and very functional.

Although small, “We Made It!” demonstrates the skills and accomplishments of the graduating artists in its selection. The stylistic distinction of each piece stands out as the work of each individual artist. This year, there were only three graduates, but next year the furniture design program can look forward to six, and as the abilities of each graduating artist is exhibited, the two schools hope their program with continue to grow.

(The opening reception for “We Made It!” takes place on Saturday, June 21, from 6-8 p.m., and is on display through July 2 at the Windgate Gallery in the North Bennet Street School, 150 North Street in the North End of Boston, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)