Garry Bennett Trestle Table for Charity: Buy a piece of woodworking history
Other than his own show openings at galleries and museums, it is increasingly rare to find Garry Bennett outside his beloved Oakland, CA, let alone teaching a class. That’s why it was a treat to spend a week with him in 2008 at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, as he built one of his signature trestle tables, to be auctioned off for charity. Adams hand-picked Bennett’s “students” from a list of regular customers, and invited FWW to be a part of the event. We’ll soon run an article on that table in FWW, and on FineWoodworking.com a video of that raucous week at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.
Auction for a good cause
But if you move fast and can make it to the Furniture Society Conference in Boston this Friday, you can buy the actual table Garry made that week in Indiana. Also, you’lll be contributing to the craft, with half of the purchase price going to the Furniture Society and the other half to support new woodworkers. For details about the auction, go to the conference Web pages.
If you are unfamilar with this lion of the craft, read on. The person I met at Marc Adams School was both a mountain of a man and a down to earth guy. His regular stream of profanity put the rest of us at ease (what’s that say about us?), and his footloose style of woodworking was a joy to watch. I came away inspired and ready to re-invent furnituremaking to my own liking, just the way he has.
Skip the “Knox”
Happiest when shuffling around his funky three-floor workshop/gallery/home in Oakland, he seems to have only a few complaints. One is people using his middle name, Knox, which has stuck with him despite his best efforts to shed it.
“Nail Cabinet” fame
Another is people who know him only for his “Nail Cabinet,” a fine case piece with a nail driven into it, which ran on the back cover of FWW #24 and drew an avalanche of letters, both pro and con. All I could get out of him about that infamous piece was, “I planned to make a precious thing less precious.”
But Bennett is most bummed out about the shrinking number of studio furnituremakers like him, those who attempt to make art and work purely on spec. “My kind of guys are dying off,” he says.
Trained at California College of the Arts from 1958-1962, he worked as a sculptor, painter, and jewelry maker throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. His big break was inventing the “roach clip,” (he’s the guy!) which sold by the hundreds of thousands in “head shops” ascross the U.S.
So when he began making furniture in the late-‘70s, Bennett had a few advantages: a big nest egg, plenty of workspace, metalworking skills, and art training. His funky mixed-media pieces were a big hit from the beginning—a rare thing in the studio-furniture world. For at least 10 years, everything sold out. That’s probably why he has never had to teach to supplement his income. Even at 74, you can still find him in his studio almost every day, creating usable art, lubricating his creativity with Scotch, and entertaining his local artist friends.
Garry (don’t say Knox) Bennett’s work is among the most important of the 20th century, featured at the Smithsonian and included in almost every other major collection of modern furniture. To fully appreciate it, check out his biography, “Made in Oakland” or visit his Web site.
This signature Garry Bennett table will be auctioned off on Friday, June 18, in Boston. I call at an "untrestle" table, as Bennet has reversed all of the conventional aspects of the form. With a very thin top and a cartoonishly bulky bottom, it breaks the mold. The audacious, feminine curves are another favorite Bennett feature.
This table was a group project for charity, and everyone who worked on it signed the bottom of the tabletop.
I've forgotten most of the bad jokes Bennett told us, but I remember almost every excellent tip he shared.
Bennett loved the opportunity to step aside and watch other skilled woodworkers pitch in, but he didn't miss a trick.