Putting the "log" back in Blog

Furniture Design Inspiration Part 1: Art Institute of Chicago

Posted on December 26th, by Andy Brownell in Design, Projects. No Comments


I’ve been in toasty-warm Chicago since Saturday, visiting family and alternating between lethargic periods of movie-lounging, and grazing on some tasty food and drink. Sloth and gluttony however, weren’t the only deadly sins checked-off the list. You see, I took a few diversions in-between to add envy and lust to the list, at least when it comes to looking for inspiration on my next project. On Sunday I visited the Chicago Art Institute with my sister, and had an eye on their American Decorative Arts exhibit.

The first exhibit I spent some quality time in was the American decorative arts section of the museum. Primarily the furniture and sculpture exhibits. One of coolest pieces (photo above), and certainly the biggest was a sculpture of a giant log as it would have looked after it had fallen and begun to rot.  It’s by American born Charles Ray, titled Hinoki (2007). The story behind it is basically this: Ray found the tree, cut it up in movable chunks, made silicone then plaster casts, and then had master Japanese carver Yuboku Mukoyoshi and crew recreate the log at full size (over 40′) by laminating the rough shape with solid cypress and then carved to match the original. Mind blown. You can read more here on the Art Institute’s site.

Castle-NakashimaThe next section was the furniture exhibits. Any woodworker should make a point of visiting these collections. It’s essentially the evolutionary tree of furniture design for the last 400 years and really inspired me to venture out and try something different. I was vaguely familiar with Wendell Castle after seeing some of his work featured in woodworking magazines but never saw one in person. The Art Institute had three of his pieces being shown including a music stand, dresser and coffee table. His technique is a variation of the Ray/Mukoyoshi piece around carving stacked laminations of solid wood. I imagined what it must be like making something along the lines of Castle’s work in bubinga. Here’s a link to a video of the coffee table on Instagram. Pretty cool.

thorne-miniature-rooms-113The last exhibit I checked out was the Thorne Miniatures collection. I was amazed by the miniature work and what must go into such mini-masterpieces. Based on just a few of the meager smaller prototypes I’ve built, my brain was totally fried to see the details on pieces that are a 1 inch = 1 foot scale. If you see one thing in the Museum, this should be the first on the list, as you won’t want to rush through it.

I’d really be interested in trying out something along the lines of the stacked lamination process. I’m open to anyone with good resources or videos on this particular process. Also the carving tools used (power grinder) and/or hand tools.

I know I’ll probably start smaller, particularly with Bubinga since it’s so dense, before I commit to a much larger project.

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