Let's start with a definition: Studio furniture is furniture that is also art. Good studio furniture is lovingly crafted, originally designed, and often has an animating wit. Maybe that's why furniture maker David Savage called his 2011 book surveying the field in the United States and United Kingdom "Furniture With Soul: Master Woodworkers and Their Craft." Savage takes a two-pronged approach, identifying both masters of the genre and up-and-comers.
Gallery NAGA has snatched the opportunity to mount two shows featuring Savage's picks. The first one, also titled "Furniture With Soul," is up now and spotlights abiding figures in the field, such as Englishman John Makepeace, who came up in the 1970s, Californian John Cederquist, and Cambridge-based Judy Kensley McKie. Next spring, the gallery will bring the younger artists in.
The marquetry is a marvel in Makepeace's startling and comic "Zebra Cabinets." Snugly fitting together black oak and pale holly like puzzle pieces, Makepeace depicts stripes, as well as faces and tails on either end of the horizontal cabinets. Open the door, and you find the cubbies and drawers inside lacquered in a shocking fire-engine red.
Cederquist modeled his sprightly upright cabinet "Big Kanji" after a 1940s-era kimono covered with wartime propaganda. He, too, uses marquetry, insetting images cut from a variety of woods into the wooden surface. Giant Japanese lettering in red is amplified by the swoop of wood grain. On the right, a squadron of planes, propellers whirling, fly into an ominous cloud-filled sky. McKie's bronze "Grazing Horse Table," meanwhile, is all grace, with its undulant, muscular lines and its whispering patina.
Peter Danko's "NoCo2 Chair" is among the more modest works in the show. It's modeled on a familiar Eames chair design with four legs and a slightly scoopy back and seat, crafted from glossy ash and Macassar ebony. Danko inserted rubber from car tires beneath the seat; it gives the chair spring. Even as these artists make work that has aesthetic juice, they are conscious of the smallest technical details. Appealing as this furniture is to look at, it begs to be touched, and used.