The New Hampshire Furniture Masters’ new, permanent gallery at the Smile Building at 49 S. Main St. in Concord features some of the most wonderful kind of art: the kind that you live in. Or put things in, or sit on or tell the time on.
The gallery is possible in part because of Steve Duprey of The Duprey Cos., who created the opportunity by generous financing, as he is renting the space that will exhibit the masters’ work for 10 cents per year for 10 years. The gallery’s location in the new Smile Building, adjacent to the Concord Chamber of Commerce’s Welcome Center and across from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s gallery, is just what the Furniture Masters (furnituremasters.org) have been hoping for.
“The idea of a permanent home for our works has been a longtime dream for us, and we’re deeply appreciative of Steve Duprey’s generosity,” said Brian Sargent, the current chairman of the organization.
While the masters have had work displayed in many museums and art shows throughout the country (including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art, the Currier Museum of Art, the Bennington Museum, the American Craft Museum in New York City, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston), this is the first permanent exhibit to feature the New Hampshire Furniture Masters’ work.
“Having the gallery in the [Concord] Chamber is really nice because we have people from all over the world who come in, which enables more people to become aware of the artists in the state of New Hampshire. By having our pieces recognized in museums, it supports the idea that furniture is art. The gallery gives us a forum to display and show it to a wider audience,” Sargent said. “This is a great opportunity for the masters to continue the mission to provide awareness of how great finely crafted furniture is.”
In a world of Bob’s, Bernie and Phyl’s and Pier 1, the New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association creates furniture the old-fashioned way. Of the two dozen craftsmen in the NHFMA, all are committed to maintaining their craft as a full-time profession. The artists’ styles range from Early American and Shaker to neo-classical and contemporary.
“Handmade furniture speaks a different language than commercial-made furniture. We have our own voice of how we like to express what we do, and it’s in this way that we make furniture into art,” Sargent said.
To call it anything but art seems unjust. Some pieces are painted, some are stained, but these craftsmen seem to draw out every beauty in the furniture they create, from the natural, rich, golden colors in a stained clock to the beautiful curvature in a crafted bench. The quality is evident — even someone uneducated in furniture, in art, can see that these lamps, nightstands, dressers and hutches truly deserve a place to be seen, if not by the buyer then by the people who walk in and out of the Chamber each day.
“I don’t think anyone will dispute the beauty in any piece of furniture displayed here,” Duprey said. “The level of the artisans’ commitment and passion to creating quality furniture is evident through this gallery…. This is the perfect opportunity to showcase the craft of furniture making through this space,” Duprey said.
The New Hampshire Furniture Masters began in 1995 as a means to continue the New Hampshire legacy, but also to keep alive an art.
“It’s an art that is being lost, but it’s one that needs not to be lost, because it generates such an appeal…It speaks from their heart and soul to appreciate these things,” Sargent said.
Keeping this craft alive is not just about the material product. Part of the joy in creating furniture is seeing people enjoy it.
“My passion for making furniture is driven by my interaction with clients…. A part of me goes into everything I make. When I create a piece of furniture for someone, I hope they get a sense of attachment every time they see it, like they do seeing an old friend, and I hope that people who buy this furniture make connections with the maker, to develop an even deeper appreciation for the work,” Sargent said. The gallery is to change each season and potentially more often if buyers wish to purchase any of these pieces.
The gallery gives the masters the chance to show their work, but also to present it to the public to purchase. The majority of their work is created through commission, with the exception of the Furniture Master’s Annual auction, for which an exhibition will be held Aug. 22 through Sept. 19. The auction itself will happen Sept. 21 and Sept. 22.