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Wood artisans create functional beauty

Heather Herron

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 21, 2019

Heads Up! This article is 3 years old.

Furniture is typically functional and usually comfortable, but it doesn’t always stand out or make a statement.

That is, unless you’re describing the chairs, benches, and dressers made by members of the Indiana Artisan Furniture Guild. They’re practical, yet fanciful and as unique as the men themselves.

“It’s Hoosier craftsmanship at its best,” said Indiana Artisan Interim Director Rosalyn Demaree. “The pieces are simply stunning. It is like going to a gallery show of incredible art, but it’s all very functional furniture.”

The designs of four furniture makers will be on display through Mar. 10, in a special exhibit at the Garrett Museum of Art. It celebrates the passion, care, and talent they pour into their pieces.

Listening to the wood

“To hear them talk about the wood, it’s like they’ve raised this as a child,” Demaree said. “They have all this pride in it. What I think is special about this work is that they really design it according to what the wood tells them. It’s fascinating to hear them put it together.”

Each of the artists gets his inspiration from a variety of places, but most often from nowhere in particular. That’s what makes their furniture so unique.

“It just kind of sneaks up on me most times,” said artist Greg Adams. “The material I use is natural wood that’s cut out of nature.”

“I don’t know, I just come up with these things from my head,” George Abiad agreed. “I look at something and I see a piece of furniture. I think, ‘This is what I would do.’”

“I really appreciate the classical designs and traditions, but I really want to take those and build upon them for the client’s exact location and setting,” explained Peter Falk. “I weave in their interests and their aesthetics and combine that with the wood. It’s really looking at nature, looking at the client’s interests, and the skill that’s been given to me.”

Adams, who has a shop in Lapel and primarily uses wood from a willow tree, said his work isn’t like that of the others.

“Everyone else’s is machine made,” Adams said. “I’m more of a nailed-together, approximate kind of guy. I hardly ever measure anything. A lot of people will copy other artists, and I don’t like to do that at all. I do my own thing,”

Abiad has also developed his own signature style. Originally from Beirut, he didn’t start working with wood until he moved to the U.S. in the late 1990s and was able to buy the tools and machinery he needed.

“I like my furniture to look different than anything you would see at the store,” Abiad emphasized. “There’s always an inlay that goes somewhere in it that looks like a checkerboard, it’s almost like a brand that I use. I use different color woods in my pieces. I don’t stain anything, I use the natural color of the wood with a finish on it. Also, you will see a lot of curves in my pieces where I try to eliminate corners.”

No ‘Do not touch’ signs

The artisans enjoy having their pieces on display in exhibits like the one at the Garrett Museum of Art because it allows others to see the furniture firsthand instead of in a photograph.

“To really appreciate it, you really have to be able to touch it and feel it. That’s why we do these shows,” Adams said. “So that people can actually do that. At the museum they were getting ready to make a whole bunch of tags that say, ‘Do Not Touch,’ and we said, ‘No, no, we don’t want you to do that.’ We want people to touch.”

Their furniture, made almost exclusively from Indiana hardwoods, includes custom desks, tables, and chairs as well as benches, dressers, chests, and stools. The exhibit will also feature two-dimensional art like photographs and paintings from Hoosier artisans.

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