Transformative conversation with Peter Korn: Part II

Arthur Dodge September 24, 2015
Silas Kopf teaches a fun marquetry class at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship

In Part One of this post I touched on Peter Korn’s self-transformation via his studio furniture practice and central insights that motivated both his founding of the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship and the writing of his book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters.

In Part Two I’ll briefly share other transformative elements of our conversation. I especially want to point out how he and his school are participating in the present day furniture design and craftsmanship metamorphosis: from the Arts & Crafts influenced Studio Furniture Movement; to the Modernist/Postmodernist influenced Studio Design Movement.

In this post I’ll sketch in some background on the influential Arts & Crafts Movement; the Studio Craft Movement; and the Studio Design Movement. After this I’ll give you some information about the Messler gallery’s exciting new show Contemporary Wood Design.

The Arts & Crafts Movement

The craftsman/craft vision first propagated by English Arts & Crafts movement founding philosopher John Ruskin, and founding craftsman William Morris was a potent worldview that inspired a new generation of designer-craftsmen in the British Isles, who in turn influenced many of their peers on the European continent.

Entrepreneurs Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard were among the first proponents of the American Arts and Crafts movement. They vigorously transplanted craftsman ideals into the pragmatic American culture. They were joined by brilliant designers such as Harvey Ellis, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles & Henry Greene, and Bernard Maybeck. This American hybrid thrived for several decades, progressing from sea to shining sea with a series of regionally adaptive styles: Craftsman; Lodge; Prairie; Cowboy; Mission and Bungalow.

All styles have natural life cycles . . . American tastes changed during the 1920’s . . . the Arts & Crafts movement went dormant. However, almost a century later, its vision of craft and perennial ideals reemerged in the form of the Arts & Crafts Revival that started in the late 1960’s and are influential to this day.

The Studio Craft Movement

While the Ruskin/Morris idea of craft greatly informed his generation’s mindset, Peter Korn and his countrymen brought other ideas to their understanding of craft. It was self-evident to them that craft was one of their many unalienable rights, along with “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Becoming a craftsman was a way to be self-actualized, self-employed and self-fulfilled. All these things led to how craft was practiced in the Studio Craft movement . . . Culture matters . . . 20th century western culture celebrated individuality and this strongly affected Studio Craft, including Studio Furniture. Every piece aspired to display its maker’s rising virtuosity and idiosyncratic design vision. For true artist-craftsmen such as Silas Kopf, his onetime mentor Wendell Castle, other Studio Furniture masters, and their gallerists, this was a felicitous arrangement. Intrepid artist-designer-craftsmen (& women:-) will continue creating unique Studio Furniture pieces and their clients will continue commissioning and appreciating – in the words of William Morris – these “blossoms of the art of furniture.” However, the Studio Craft Movement has entered its mature stage, while contemporary culture is undergoing a generational shift.

Some Studio Craft Pieces (w/ Inlay Arts) by Center for Furniture Craftsmanship Instructors & Alumni:

The Studio Design Movement

Peter Korn and his team at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship serve a diverse clientele ranging from amateur fine woodworking enthusiasts to established Studio Furniture designer-craftsmen. They could settle for teaching woodworking skills to these communities and enjoying a pleasant lifestyle in the scenic harbor village of Rockport, Maine. But they don’t settle.

 “The real energy is with the Maker movement and with what I call – because it doesn’t have a name yet – the Studio Design movement. You can see this centering in Brooklyn, where young people are as excited as my generation ever was about this miracle of having an idea and then doing the hard work of of bringing it into physical existence. They’re excited about participating in shows such as ICFF (the International Contemporary Furniture Fair) and the satellite shows around NYCxDesign. But they’re not making precious one-of-a-kind gallery objects. The ideas that they’re realizing are for more utilitarian, product oriented pieces of furniture; designs that can be produced in small batches or in quantity; that don’t have to come from one person’s hands; that can hit price points to reach a broader audience and that can be shown on the floor of an exhibit stand or a retail store. Most of it is coming from a more community minded, environmentally conscious viewpoint as well.”

Peter Korn, Interview by Arthur Dodge,

 Examples of Studio Design Pieces (w/ Inlay Arts) Fabricated In Brooklyn, New York:

I spoke recently with Victoria Allport, the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship’s marketing director and Messler Gallery manager, and she told me that she’s excited about the gallery’s new show Contemporary Wood Design [September 25th, 2015 – January 6, 2016].

Contemporary Wood Design at Messler Gallery

“What shouldn’t get lost is the idea that’s important to me, the idea that animates the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship. What matters about making is that it is a form of being creatively engaged in the world that seems to really be a key to finding meaning and fulfillment in one’s life. And I don’t care if it’s in crafts or sculpture or composition or even business. Really doing the hard work of trying to change the world in some way that matters is what we try to facilitate here in our field and what seems to matter in general. It’s a different take on what matters in life than what the mainstream of our society serves up.”

From Why We Make Things Q&A with Peter Korn by Andrew Zoellner, American Craft

*Photo of CFFC’s sign in this post’s header is from an excellent article in the Penobscot Bay Pilot by Kay Stephens – [email protected] (see links below)