The Art of Fine Furniture’s Big Number 2

The Art of Fine Furniture’s Big Number 2

Imagine you opened a book on a table. Then you spread out the pages so that you had a perfect half circle arching between the covers. That is just what Seth Rolland did, but with a piece of wood! WHAT?! IMPOSSIBLE!

I know, but it’s true. This is The Art of Fine Furniture’s second year. Our local artist, Jamie Schell, has done it again bringing together award-winning craftsmen and their masterpieces from across the state right here in Winona. Jamie is showing several pieces himself, including “Rare Birds on a Wire” made from rare Hawaiian wood which he picked up when he moved there to learn his craft. Read more in the interview that follows.

When I walked through the show, which is on display at the Winona County History Center, my jaws would not stay together. Everything from a bench that seems to be suspended over nothing, but easily supported the mayor when he was asked to test it, to an elegant egg-like piece made from intricate cuts of wood, metal, and stained glass which spins and opens to reveal a tray for serving drinks. The woodwork is phenomenal—seriously some of it is nationally renown—so why wait? Go check it out before it closes on September 11. Below is my interview with the founder, artist, and local Jamie Schell (the master mind) himself! Enjoy!

The Interview

Twigz: Jamie, you’re a native of Winona, but we’ve heard you haven’t always lived here. Why did you leave, where did you go, and what brought you back?

Jamie: I had for many years wanted to travel and experience more of the world.  When I got the opportunity to move West for a job I jumped on it.  I lived in California near Yosemite National Park for about a year and half until moving to Seattle for another year.  In that time I traveled to Hawaii for work and vacation and while there I met some Studio Furniture makers.  I saw what they were doing and thought to myself,  I would love to be making studio furniture and make a living by doing so.  6 months after that trip I wrote my resignation letter saying I was moving to Hawaii to become a furniture maker.  I landed on Maui with no real plans other than becoming a studio furniture maker.  I met my mentor Leonard Guidroz and the next 7 years fell into place.  After getting married to my wife Anne, and later having our son Silas, we felt the pull of family and made the move back to Winona.

Twigz: What makes you so excited about wood? And why not just make standard furniture? What is so special about this kind of work? Is this an art or a craft?

Jamie: I have a techincal back ground as a machinist.  The one thing I like about wood is how mallable it is.  Metal is so much more rigid and difficult to shape.  Also every piece of wood is unique, from grain, color, species.  Even with in the same species wood can vary significantly just based on what side of a hill it grew on.  I really enjoy the discovery that happens when you start to dissect a piece of wood.  Much of the furniture today is made from uninteresting wood, stained and homogenized from material that is inferior.  It is built to last 5 year, then it finds its way to the landfill.  I prefer to make furniture that will last generations and that honors the wood.  Studio furniture differs from traditional craft furniture in that it embodies more elements of art in the design.  The balance between form and function can tip more heavily towards the form.  In some pieces the function is only implied but not necessarily present.  These pieces quite often can stand alone as art to be viewed and explored but not really used in a traditional furniture sense.  The one thing that seems to be constant between traditional furniture and studio furniture is the presence of craftsmanship.  The joinery and methods used to make studio furniture are quite often similar to traditional craftsmen pieces.  Dovetails, inlay, marquetry, veneer, etc..

Twigz: How did the Art of Fine Furniture begin? What is the history here? Who is all involved and 9what do you think it brings to Winonans?

Jamie: The Art of Fine Furniture started in 2013 as the capstone event for a Southeast Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC)/McKnight Individual Artist grant I received.  I built a cabinet called “Kokuna O kala mai mauna loa”.  (Rays of sun from Mauna Loa)  The wood in the piece was from the Big Island of Hawaii.  I thought showing a single piece of studio furniture was less interesting than showing 24 pieces from 10 makers and the Winona County History Center thought the same.  So now in our second year as a show we find ourselves supported once again by SEMAC with an Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund grant as well as Winona National Bank as out anchor sponsor.  The Art of Fine Furniture for me started as a way to make art very approachable to folks that would normally find art intimidating.  So many people have connections to furniture, they have stories of parents and grandparents who loved to make furniture.  People feel comfortable coming to the History Center to see a gallery style exhibit of art furniture.  I think it is a really great thing.  I hope that they leave inspired to make art and to take the time to view other forms of art.

Twigz: We talked a bit about your piece “Rare Birds on a Wire.” What is the story with it? Why all the beautiful curves, what’s with the name, and what is so special about Koa Wood?

Jamie: “Rare Birds”  is a piece I started building 3 months before the start of this years show.  It started like most of my pieces as a simple 2D sketch of the dominant view and knowing I wanted to use Koa as the featured wood.  Koa is native to the Hawaiian Islands.  It is not readily available these days and has become quite expensive, as it should be.  It really is one of the greatest woods anywhere.  The depth, color and grain are just spectacular.  “Rare Birds” like all of my pieces has what I call natural curves throughout.  These curves are similar to the curves we see in nature.  They are not true radii they are segments of an ellipse.  These curves are inherently appealing to most people.  They are fluid and and fare.  The name “Rare Birds on a Wire” comes from a couple of different places.   A gentleman who I used to purchase wood from in Hawaii would always attempt to inflate the price of his wood by telling you, “now that’s a rare bird there, you won’t find another one like it anywhere.”  The birds on a wire part comes from the design and layout of piece that to me gives the appearance of two birds balanced gracefully on a wire.

Twigz: Compare “Rare Birds” with your “Opiuma Box” piece. What’s the difference in style, technique, and meaning for you as the creator?

Jamie: Rare Birds is a piece I made using shop sawed koa veneers and the Opiuma Box is made from solid wood.  The Opiuma box is considerably more simple in construction methods but from an aesthetic design point I think it is really strong, as is Rare Birds.  The Opium Box for me was a practice in making a piece that is more raw.   I really enjoy the remnants of tooling marks and “imperfections” that can be found on the piece.  These markings help express a feeling of it being made by hand.  The level of refinement is not as meticulous as Rare Birds.  Rare Birds was an extremely labor intensive piece from start to finish.  I wanted the piece to be very clean and precise allowing the wood and grain graphics to become the dominant art features on the cabinet.  I might argue that the one thing a person needs to do when working with koa wood is to get the basic proportions and balance of the piece right and the koa wood will take care of the rest.  It really is a spectacular wood to work with.

Twigz: What are a few of the other pieces you are excited about? What will people see if they come?

Jamie: Truth be told, I really enjoy everything in the show.  When curating the exhibit I make a point to invite makers who represent a wide swath of styles and methods.  Two years into this now I find that just like traditional forms of art peoples taste for a particular style or discipline varies so much from individual to individual.  What speaks to one person may not speak to another.  My personal favorites are Johns Nesset’s “Cantilever” bench, Mark Laub’s “Escapade” display cabinet, and Tim Gorman’s “Chubby one” vessel.  I also stand in awe of the craftsmanship of so many of the pieces, like Craig Johnson’s Walnut chair.

Twigz: Tell us where, when, and how we can come? How else can we get involved?

Jamie: The exhibit will run from June 22nd – September 11th.  You can visit or to find information and the hours the museum is open.  You can also participate in the two remaining workshops free of charge thanks to the SEMAC grant funding.  August 16th at my shop here in Winona we will be doing – Bent Lamination and veneering for artful designs.  Then September 6th we will be in Money Creek, MN doing a seminar on Harvesting, Milling and storing wood for art and studio furniture.  We will be felling an old damaged cherry tree, then milling it into slabs and boards.  There will also be wood for sale.


The Details:

What: The Art of Furniture
When: June 21 – Sept 11, 2014
Where: Winona County History Center

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