Meet the Masters
NH Furniture Masters take over the Currier for their 14th auction
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
This September, see work by state prisoners in the Currier Museum of Art.
The works by two prisoners will join the New Hampshire Furniture Masters at their 14th annual auction, which moved to the Currier in Manchester after a few years of holding it at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle. About 20 pieces are available to bid on at “Unsurpassed Artistry: New Hampshire Furniture Masters,” Sunday, Sept. 20, plus two from the Masters’ Prison Outreach Program.
The Masters are making some of the best studio furniture in the country, said Currier chief curator Andrew Spahr. NHFM work is in collections of the Smithsonian, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and more, besides the Currier, which owns four pieces. A Masters’ 10th-anniversary exhibit was at the Currier.
“The members all have national reputations,” said NHFM current chair David Lamb. With about 24 members, it’s become more of a regional organization, with furniture makers from Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts since its 1992 launch, Lamb said.
In upstairs galleries, the Currier exhibits historic furniture made in Portsmouth from about the 1680s through the 1810s, and other examples from New Hampshire and Boston-area makers, Spahr said. The Currier has had a commitment to fine furniture and New Hampshire makers since it opened in 1929, and working with NHFM continues that commitment, Spahr said.
Wentworth is a “beautiful venue,” but Manchester is more directly accessible from many places, Lamb said. Plus, the Currier is one of best museums in the Northeast, Lamb said. “To be associated with them ... and for them to want us there, we couldn’t ask for anything more.... It’s a form of validation, really,” Lamb said.
Their first auction was in 1995, and the interesting thing about these is that a patron usually works with a master to create the piece. If someone else bids higher, the master can make a second for the original patron. Pieces can take months to finish, and final bids have ranged from about $2,500 at the bottom to $15,000 to $18,000 at the top, Lamb said. This year, they’ve tried to keep most of the items in the middle, while last year a number were “very pricey,” Lamb said. A part of the proceeds from the event benefits the Masters’ Prison Outreach and apprentice educational programs.
If you aren’t in a position to bid several thousand dollars, or even pay $75 for a ticket to the gala and auction, you can see all of the work for the price of Currier admission ($10 for adults, free for those under 18, and free for everyone from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays). Even better, visit the free preview exhibit at New Hampshire Historical Society Library (30 Park St., Concord, 228-6688, www.nhhistory.org) before it closes Sept. 16.
Auction pieces are displayed in the Currier starting Sept. 18. The change allows the Masters to give a series of lectures and demonstrations leading up to the event, which is part of their educational outlook, Lamb said. In previous years, potential buyers had time to look at the pieces and talk to the makers, but looking at something finished is much different than seeing what kind of work goes into it, Lamb said. Joinery, carving and precision work are all done by hand, which is “not a common thing for people to see,” Lamb said.
Not all the items are as involved, but that shows their range of complexity, and the masters want people to know they make more affordable pieces, too, Lamb said.
“We also want to show off ... but the main goal of what we do is we want people to know what’s possible,” Lamb said. Styles range from traditional to contemporary and art furniture.
Some auction pieces are “spec.” In other words, a craftsman makes something because they are “dying” to, Lamb said. Otherwise, many masters really only build what they are commissioned to.
If you are looking for something unique, “this kind of organization is exactly the kind of place you want to go,” Lamb said. “These are one of a kind, one at a time ... so [it’s] really a different animal,” Lamb said. If you are interested in commissioning furniture or just seeing how it’s made, come to the demonstrations or lectures at the Currier, he said.