The Hippo


Jul 4, 2020








A library stand by David Masury. Courtesy photo.

See the show

Where: Furniture Masters’ Gallery, 49 S. Main St., Concord
When: On view July 10 through Sept. 7
Reception: Friday, June 26, 5-7 p.m.

Furniture-making freedom
Last “Schools of Thought” show features UNH students

By Kelly Sennott

Many pieces within “Schools of Thought IV: UNH” were created by students of furniture master Dan Valenza in the 1970s, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at them. 

“The biggest takeaway for me was that Dan gave us the freedom to explore and experiment,” said Exeter artist and former student Jeffrey Cooper via phone.
The show is the fourth in a series of exhibitions featuring pieces by students of various furniture-making schools. Past shows highlighted work by students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Rhode Island School of Design,  Boston University’s Program in Artisanry, the North Bennet Street School and the College of the Redwoods.
Most pieces on display are sculptural in nature, said curator Ted Blachly during a tour of the show, but each is distinct. The wood, styles and designs by featured UNH teachers and students Cooper, David Masury, Michael Ciardelli, Mark Ragonese (who all studied under Valenza) and Leah Woods are all completely different, notable because it’s sometimes the case that, while working under a particular master, his students will be inspired by his work and, as a result, mimic it.
Valenza, Cooper said, never had the expectation his students would work exactly as he did. He gave them permission to run free, and while he provided guidance, he also encouraged them to be unafraid to try something different and learn through experience. 
“When you’re woodworking, almost every time you’re doing something you’ve never done before,” Cooper said. “There’s a large element of stepping back, scratching your head, looking at the design of the project and wondering, how can I do this?”
Cooper, who attended the adult education program in the early ‘80s, has two pieces on display. “Fragrant Flow” is a bench shaped around a piece of stone with a verse from “Song of Solomon” carved along the legs. The other, “Ants Totem,” is like a free-standing shelf, a tribute to an ant colony destroyed when the walnut tree used was harvested. Miniature sculpted ants crawl along the back and on the table itself.
This freeform education philosophy is similar to the one UNH art professor Leah Woods uses with her students today. She teaches beginning woodworking and a furniture design workshop, which is an independent study you can take numerous times. Past students have made boats, skateboards, surfboards, you name it.
While the students usually have the freedom to explore, she’s constantly trying to mix things up. One semester, she brought the kids to Strawbery Banke and asked them to create a piece of furniture for a colonial hallway. Last year, she invited a furniture maker from Ghana to meet and work with her students. Together, they made a gigantic lobster coffin.
“I love that the group of students I have at UNH, for the most part, are really interested in almost anything I show them,” Woods said at the gallery.
One of her more recent students is featured in the show. Molly Thunberg, the youngest artist with work on display, has created chip carved plates made from basswood that hang along the side wall.
Woods also has two pieces on display. One is a hall table made from white oak and maple with brass hardware. Its bottom contains a seemingly woven wood design, and its feet meet the floor at a neat point, meant to look as though it’s resting very lightly on the ground.
The other is a lady’s shoe cabinet, inspired by an episode of Sex and the City in which Sarah Jessica Parker tears her closet apart while looking for a pair of shoes. 
“I started thinking, if this woman pays $600 for a pair of shoes, it might seem reasonable she might want to see them more than the one time per year she’s able to wear them,” Woods said. “I started thinking about women’s shoes specifically. When you go to a high-end boutique, how do you see the shoe? What angle did they stand at, and how were they displayed?”
As seen in the June 25, 2015 issue of the Hippo. 

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