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The American Craft Museum is presenting the first retrospective of one of America's foremost studio furniture makers. Garry Knox Bennett has played a major role in the development of studio furniture in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the nation for more than 25 years.
In 1979, Bennett rewrote the ground rules for studio furniture making. By driving a nail into the beautiful finish of his Nail Cabinet, he struck a blow that echoed throughout the studio furniture community and helped to free the field from its obsession with technique and its overbearing reverence for wood.Nail Cabinet became a landmark in the history of twentieth-century craft. Bennett’s nonconformist approach to furniture making is also exemplified in masterworks such as the ColorCore Desk (1984) and the Boston Kneehole Desk (1989). His innovations and irreverence changed the course of studio furniture making for future generations of craftsmen.
Bennett’s furniture, clocks and lamps, while eminently functional, are full of visual surprises, unexpected shapes and angles, striking colors, and contrasting materials and surface treatments. Robust in spirit, extroverted, innovative and energetic, Bennett’s creations express a sensibility that is clearly American. “What one admires about Garry Knox Bennett is above all the prodigality of his invention,” states Arthur C. Danto, Emeritus Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and essayist in the exhibition catalogue. Ursula Ilse-Neuman, curator of the exhibition at the American Craft Museum comments, “Garry Knox Bennett has created a uniquely American contemporary vernacular that alludes to tradition but unsettles it with unconventional materials and distinctive design elements. His work transforms the commonplace into the unexpected.”
A native of Alameda, CA, Bennett began to study sculpture in the l960s when the countercultural revolution was at its height. When he applied his fascination with sculptural composition and highly expressive forms to furniture making, he was immediately recognized as a maverick in the field, a reputation he maintains to this day. “While many other furniture makers in California shared a common irreverence or lack of inhibition, only Bennett has remained active and consistently produced a strong body of work over the twenty-five year period,” states Edward S. Cooke, Jr., Professor of American Decorative Arts in the Department of Art History at Yale University, and contributor to the exhibition catalogue.
There are over 200 works in the exhibition ranging from large-scale desks and trestle tables to Bennett’s unconventional clocks, lamps, and jewelry – a rich assembly that displays his sharp sense of humor, innovative techniques, and meticulous craftsmanship. Among his most recent works is a newly invented form, the tablelamp, ingeniously constructed of materials ranging from bamboo and PVC to bowling balls.
Bennett’s innovative working methods will be examined in the exhibition through enlarged photographs and a deconstructed piece of furniture that demonstrates his use of the band saw, drill press, and milling machine to create unusual effects.