- Associated Press - Saturday, August 30, 2014

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - They are all around us, and, at some point, somebody somewhere designed the chair that you’re sitting in - though if it’s not very comfortable you may question their design qualifications.

I bet you have one - a favorite chair, one that calls to you at the end of a long day. Or maybe you have a status chair, one that looks good but isn’t so comfortable.

Recliners comfort us. Rockers remind us of Grandma.

One thing I have always liked about Reynolda House Museum of American Art is that it was once someone’s home. It illustrates what it might be like to live with works by great artists - Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Sheeler, Thomas Eakins - in the living room, the bedroom, even the bathroom.

Now, two curators at Reynolda are taking things a step further and re-framing everyday objects as art with a traveling show, “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design,” and with objects that are already in the “historic house,” which they call the house part of Reynolda to distinguish it from the Babcock Wing. The Babcock Wing includes a lobby, auditorium and a gallery where special exhibits are displayed.

Reynolda House is the exhibition’s only venue with its own decorative-arts collection on view in its original setting.

“The Art of Seating,” organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Fla., and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, is the first decorative-arts show that Reynolda House has presented. Phil Archer, director of public programs, and Julia Hood, coordinator of education, are the co-curators.

“Phil and I both have a passion for furniture,” Hood said. “So it was an opportunity to make a connection to the historic house, where we have furniture that we don’t talk about enough, by bringing a show that would really help highlight that.”

“There’s nothing more accessible than a chair,” Archer said.

“We can use chairs as touch points to talk about American history and ideas,” Hood said.

In the exhibit, an ornate, red Victorian chair, circa 1850, was designed by Thomas E. Warren, who had been designing railroad cars, Hood said: “He was thinking about the way that chairs and people move, and so it pivots all around on its base.”

It has a round, cushiony seat, eight large springs below the seat and is on casters instead of feet. In it, a person can spin, and bounce both up and down and on a diagonal.

“It shows the Victorian obsession with comfort and with travel, trains and technology,” Archer said.

Changes in technology show from chair to chair. “They figured out ways to make chairs out of everything,” he said, “Fiberglass, plastic, cardboard, steel rods, sticks, rattan.”

Also in the exhibition is the House of Representatives Chamber Armchair from 1857. Designed by Thomas U. Walter, the House of Representatives chairs were created to be used by legislators in the House chamber and were showcased in portraits of political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. A later chair in the exhibition by David Wolcott Kendall, deemed by his peers as “The Dean of American Furniture Design,” was presented to William McKinley during his term in the White House and has become known as the “McKinley” armchair.

All 43 chairs in the exhibit were designed and built in America, by 39 designers and 34 manufacturers.

“We started thinking about our region as central to furniture manufacturing for the past 100 years,” Archer said. “The exhibition doesn’t have a North Carolina focus; it’s a national story, but we thought it would be a great chance to talk about the kind of industry that was happening here.”

One chair was designed in North Carolina, “Current,” at the Penland School by Vivian Beer. Beer will give a talk in November to coincide with the opening of the Piedmont Craftsmen’s Fair’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“The Art of Seating” has inspired collaborative exhibits and programs throughout the Triad, including at High Point University, the Center for Design Innovation, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and the High Point Furniture Market Authority.

There will be gallery talks and events at the museum throughout the exhibition’s run, including a performance by dancers from UNC School of the Arts School of Dance.

Since everybody can relate to chairs, and Hood and Archer said that they love furniture, I asked them about their favorites at home.

Hood chose an Ikea Poang chair.

Archer has two: an emotional favorite, a Mission rocking chair given to him by his grandmother; and a design favorite: a bent-plywood, hand-numbered chair “in the style of Norman Cherner.” Cherner pioneered the use of molded plywood in chairs. Archer is not sure if it’s really a Cherner, but he likes it anyway.


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com

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