Looking ahead: Furniture Society Conference 2009
It’s hard to believe that 2008 is at its end; it flew by. Looking back, my woodworking highlight of the year was attending the Furniture Society Conference held at SUNY Purchase. The 2009 conference will be held in June in Boone, North Carolina. Boone is beautiful on its own, but throw in the conference and it could make for a fantastic vacation.
I wasn’t sure what the annual conference would be like. It is held at a different location each year, making it more accessible to more people, and I’m told this change in venue creates a different mood or personality for each individual conference, adding even more variety for repeat attendees. In the end, the event exceeded my expectations, and if you are interested in furniture in any way it would be difficult not to find a few days of worthwhile content.
Two of the biggest complaints lodged against the conference are that it is too expensive and too academic. Hogwash, I say. Although it isn’t a cheap ticket (a three-day, non-member pass ran $405; members got in for $350, and student prices were almost half that amount), you get a lot for your investment. Single-day passes also are available, and the Furniture Society provides free conference passes to qualified individuals. In addition to daily continental breakfast and lunches (good ones, too) each day is jammed with speakers, exhibitions, panel discussions, hands-on demonstrations, portfolio presentations, auctions, and public slide reviews. In fact, there was too much to choose from. The schedule was set up so that multiple things were happening concurrently. More than once I found myself torn over scheduling conflicts (even with some events being repeated), wishing I could be in two places at once.
I can see why some people might find the conference to be scholastic, but only in small doses and never too academic. Panel discussions and a few of the speakers were set up in large lecture rooms, but lively audience participation and the easy-going demeanor of the speakers shooed away the feeling of being stuck in a classroom. Besides, if those discussions weren’t doing it for you there were always other practical, hands-on workshops to attend or exhibits to peruse. Check out the 2008 schedule.
But inspiration was the most valuable thing I took away from the conference. It was impossible not be inspired by Seats of New York, an exhibition sponsored by the Furniture Society? Curated by Jon Binzen, the show represented furniture makers from across New York. Attending the Award of Distinction lunch and listening to Wendy Maruyama and Walker Weed accept their awards was nothing less than motivational. Hundreds of woodworkers, from beginners to consummate pros, came out of their mostly one man shops and gathered together to talk about and hear about the state of their craft, to share their ideas, their work. The atmosphere was always casual, never stuffy. That sense of community and purpose among like-minded people, worth the price of admission.
Here is just a smattering of what was offered at the conference:
Master of marquetry. Silas Kopf’s marquetry workshop was a power-packed 45 minutes, effortlessly taking participants from a drawing to a finished marquetry panel and simplifying the somewhat daunting process.
Carved to perfection. Self-trained carver Brian Newell began carving as a boy. He discussed the simplicity of getting started in carving as opposed to furniture making, “a block of wood and some carving gouges is all one needs.” Talking about carving in different woods and the peace and joy of carving, Newell demonstrated his techniques and invited participants to give it a shot.
Not the typical finish. Contemporary furniture maker Vivian Beer demonstrates how to prepare and apply auto paints to furniture.
A master at work. Japanese born woodworker, Toshio Odate, shows how to surface wood, beginning with a power planer and then moving to wooden hand planes. Odate also spoke about his background, woodworking philosophies, and gave a slideshow presentation of his work to an overflowing room.
The technical side of things. Long-time Fine Woodworking contributor Ernie Conover spoke on behalf of Powermatic Tools in an informative session about the economy and its impact on tool manufacturers and woodworkers. Conover also highlighted some Powermatic news, the 15″ planer with a helical cutterhead and customized machines.
Working with new materials. Dan Michalik brings cork to furniture making. His workshop started with a beautifully photographed slideshow presentation about harvesting cork, followed by a very hands-on demonstration of the ins and outs of working with the material.