Photo: "Sit Fur a Spell" Ceramic chair by Jana John
A new gallery exhibit “Have a Seat: Chairs by Kentucky Artisans” opens Sept. 17 at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, showcasing the work of 33 Kentucky artists.
The definition of a chair varies, but the most basic description declares that a chair has a seat or surface to sit upon and legs. This exhibit follows that sentiment, offering ingeniously designed chairs of all sizes. Artists have created newly made functional seating as well as non-functional miniatures, repurposed chairs and whimsical interpretations of the form.
Works in this exhibit are constructed from a wide range of materials including forged iron and steel, wood, sheet metal, felted wool, wire, natural vines and bark, clay, leather, acrylic, tree branches, recycled bourbon barrels, recycled Altoid boxes, as well as a variety of repurposed chairs.
The exhibit challenged a cross section of Kentucky artists – some of whom had never before created a chair. Ceramic artist Jana John, of Louisville, is known for her clay creations with cat and animal motifs. She decided that since chairs have four legs and cats have four legs she could blend the two together.
“In my piece ‘Sit Fur a Spell’ I hand-built a chair seat and back from a slab of terra cotta clay that I cut out in the shape of a cat,” said John. “The cat’s legs form the chair’s legs.”
Artist Mark Needham, known for his metal and acrylic jewelry, decided to take up the challenge of chair making using the five letters in the word chair. Cutting out the five letters from colorful sheets of acrylic he joined them in a variety of ways to create three versions. One called “Rock n’ Chair” is only 17 inches tall.
“I cut the letters from sheets of acrylic and painted them to look like stone,” said Needham. “As well as looking like rock, this chair literally ‘rocks’ when tapped – gently swaying back and forth.”
The exhibit includes well-known Kentucky furniture makers and furniture makers new to the center. Berea’s Doug Haley offers a classic wooden straight back chair with a woven leather seat and blacksmiths Craig Kaviar and David Shadwick offer organic and scrolled chairs. New artist works include Chris Krauskopf’s modern cherry rocker and the clean lines of Billie Bradford’s “Pagoda Chair.”
“A chair must be both graceful and very strong,” said Bradford. “It is a balance between function, strength, grace and artistic expression.”
Artists have repurposed old chairs in fascinating ways. German born artist Christa Smith, known for her Bavarian painted wooden boxes, repurposed a children’s chair with her traditional painting. John Andrew Dixon remembers his elementary school days by resurfacing a metal school chair with mixed media materials – alphabetical specimens, game cards, comics and book illustrations. Robbie Mueller created a repurposed chair adding color and winding snakes in the work “Avoid the Bite.
Recycled materials are also used in Donnie Wittler’s “Sitting Bourbon Style” created from and within a bourbon barrel and Karine and Matt Maynard’s “Campaign Chair,” made from forged steel and bourbon barrel staves. D. James Fox has created a chair from a notched walnut tree and a recycled tractor seat, designed to hold a guitar.
Amazing miniature chairs can also be found in this exhibit with three variations in natural materials by Page Candler, small ceramic chairs by Sonya Penn and three miniature chairs by Chuck Pearson whose designs are based on the use of metal “Altoid” boxes.
Participating artists include: Mike Angel, London; Thomas Blanck, Nicholasville; Billie Bradford, Louisville; Sylvia Brestel, Louisville; Page Candler, Campbellsville; John Andrew Dixon, Danville; D. James Fox, Steve Farmer and Doug Haley of Berea; Jerry Hollon, Richmond; Jana John, Robert Jones, Craig Kaviar and Chris Krauskopf of Louisville; Scott Kellersberger, Salvisa; John & Byron Marks, Walton; Karine and Matt Maynard, Lawrenceburg; Twyla and Lonnie Money, East Bernstadt; Robbie Mueller, LaGrange; Mark Needham, Louisville; Chuck Pearson, McKee; Sonya Penn, Louisville; David Shadwick, Wilmore; Christa Smith, Elizabethtown; Sarah Spradlin, Paris; Michael Terra, Paducah; David Waltz, Columbia; LaVon Williams, Lexington; Thomas R. Williams, Paris; and Donnie Wittler, Lexington.
A meet-the-artist reception for this exhibit will be held on Sunday, Sept. 25, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and is open to the public.
This exhibit is on display through Feb. 25, 2017, at the center.
The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is located at 200 Artisan Way, just off Interstate 75 at Berea Exit 77. The center’s exhibits, shopping and travel information areas are open daily, year-round, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the cafe is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
The center currently features works by more than 750 artisans from more than 100 counties across the Commonwealth. The exhibit, “Kentucky Clay: A Continuing Tradition” is on display in the lobby through Nov. 10, 2016. For more information about the center’s events call 859-985-5448, go to the center’s website, or visit the center’s Facebook page.
Photos, top row: "Pagoda Chair" by Billie Bradford; "Avoid the Bite" repurposed chair by Robbie Mueller; "Sitting Bourbon Style" by Donnie Wittler
Photo, second row: "Literal Chair" by Mark Needham