Perfecting a craft
NH Furniture Masters prepare for their big event
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
David Lamb is a founding member of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters, which formed in 1993 to continue New Hampshire’s legacy of fine furniture making and raise awareness of the craft in their own state. Lamb’s work is commissioned by celebrities and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
In many ways, New Hampshire is unique to have so many masters in a small geographic area, Lamb said. The Masters is selective and now has about 24 members. It could be the influence of the Shakers, or the League of NH Craftsmen, or a longstanding sense of craftsmanship or history, he said.
Rather than open a showroom, the Masters started holding annual juried auctions in 1995.
“It’s just a unique way of getting [our work] out there,” Lamb said. This year’s auction is Sunday, Oct. 21, at 3:30 p.m. at the Wentworth by the Sea hotel in New Castle. It’s also an opportunity to get high-quality work for possibly less than you’d pay to commission it. At the auction, that might mean between $2,500 and $25,000 depending on size and complexity.
This stuff isn’t mass produced. Each original piece is handmade.
“This is art furniture and people need to understand that,” Lamb said. It’s made in the same mindset and with the same level of expertise artisans had when they created furniture here 200 years ago, Lamb said.
The masters exhibit the auction pieces in the summer leading up to the event. There are 18 pieces this year. You can see “Art Unfolding: New Works by the New Hampshire Furniture Masters,” through Friday, Oct. 19, at the Burlingame Gallery, 111 Water St. in Exeter, 770-2956. They’ve also exhibited at the New Hampshire Historical Society and NH Institute of Art.
The masters bring designs to the in-house jury consisting of Lamb, Jere Osgood and Terry Moore plus Currier Museum of Art curator Andrew Spahr at the beginning of the year. A couple months are spent completing the pieces to be ready for the catalog photo shoot, and the jury makes final decisions. They also invite out-of-state guest masters and up and coming artists to participate.
They look for quality in technical approach and visual design, but do not limit style. Work might be traditional, contemporary or sculptural.
Some auction work is driven by a patron sponsor. About 90 percent of the masters’ work is commissioned custom work, but in a nod to the Renaissance model, a patron might decide to get involved and sponsor a piece for the auction. More than a customer, a patron is “someone who believes in what you do,” or the art form, and wants to get your work seen, Lamb said. If someone else bids more than the patron agrees to pay, the master creates a new piece for the patron or the patron is reimbursed.
A silent auction for smaller works has been added to the event, which will include at least 35 items this year.
“We don’t want people to feel like they have to be mega-millionaires to participate,” Lamb said. High-quality, detailed work can be had for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand, Lamb said. You still have to pay for the $75 admission to both auctions and gala reception.
Much of the proceeds will go to the Masters’ education efforts, prison outreach and studio-based learning. There are only two students in the latter program so far. They rotate between studios each trimester, depending on design interest, for three years. The program is tied to NHIA so students can study design theory, art history and other subjects that apply to furniture making.
“You need to be able to communicate on paper, sketching out ideas and proposals for potential customers,” Lamb said. The program is unique in the U.S.
The Masters with work in this year’s auction include Ted Blachly of Warner, Jon Brooks of New Boston, Wayne Marcoux of Manchester, Brian Sargent of Candia and Tom McLaughlin and Lamb, both of Canterbury.
To learn more, see furnituremasters.org or call 898-0242..