Francis Cape: Utopian Benches
Francis Cape, an Englishman now living in Upstate New York, learned about American utopian communities by measuring and building benches made by each of ten societies. Although the original benches were built in a variety of woods, Cape built all his reproductions in poplar, to give them a feeling of unity when they were displayed as a group. The book he wrote about the project, We Sit Together: Utopian Benches from the Shakers to the Separatists of Zoar, includes photos and measured drawings of all the benches he built as well as photos of the originals, along with essays on each of a dozen communities.
Cape came at the project not as a furniture maker per se, but as a sculptor. In his early 20s he spent five years in a traditional apprenticeship learning to carve in York, England. The shop specialized in restoration of all sorts of antique furniture and buildings and also produced lettering and deep-relief carving for coats of arms. The experience, he says, “was like living in the 18th century during the day; then I would go out and listen to rock music at night.” After the apprenticeship, he decided to take one year of drawing at an art school before entering the carving profession full time. As it turned out, he says, “I got the art bug,” and never returned. Thirty years later, Cape is a sculptor whose work, displayed in galleries and museums across the country-is often rooted in furniture and architectural woodwork.