“Modern Treasure Chests,” an exhibition at McTeigue and McClelland, a fine jewelry atelier in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is ostensibly about the works on display: imaginative jewelry boxes in a wide variety of styles made by American artisans and furniture makers. Each of the 15 participating artisans has addressed the challenge of working on a scale smaller than the usual tables and chairs, chests, and sideboards in wildly different ways. But the treasures in this show extend beyond the jewelry boxes themselves to their makers, thanks to their notable status as well as the enduring friendships they share.
All of the artisans involved in the show are graduates of the legendary Program in Artisanry, or PIA, that thrived at Boston University from 1975 to 1985, and is an important figure in the American Furniture Movement. Some are avant-garde artists, like Tommy Simpson, who’s based in New Preston, Connecticut. Others create in a traditional style, like Timothy Philbrick of Wakefield, Rhode Island. Wendy Maruyama, who recently retired as professor of woodworking and furniture design at San Diego State University, draws from her Japanese heritage and a feminist perspective. Mark Del Guidice, who’s based in Concord, Massachusetts, displays a whimsical perspective and freely uses color in his work.
“Friendship is the one thing that really matters,” says Simpson, who lives and works in New Preston, Connecticut. “We’ve all tried to create a more livable world through our art and our hope that our audience will respond to both the imagination and the craft. And now we have a chance to get together, again. It’s like an artistic family reunion.”
James Schriber, a traditional furniture maker who reimagines the midcentury-modern style in his furniture and creates strong contemporary millwork in his New Milford, Connecticut, workshop, agrees. “We came from all over, spent intense days and hours and weeks together, then went our separate ways,” he says. “Into the ’90s, galleries sprang up featuring the American Furniture Movement. Museums were clamoring for our work, and [then], slowly, it ended. But friendships don’t end. This is a wonderful chance to come together and share our work.”
Schriber’s connection to the show goes even deeper than the California walnut chest he created for it. He also built the cabinetry for the fine jewelry designed and made by gallery owner Tim McClelland, another alumnus of the PIA, albeit in metal and jewelry.
“Modern Treasure Chests” was the brainchild of McClelland. He and his business partner, Walter McTeigue, have built a unique jewelry business in Great Barrington. McClelland’s bold, contemporary designs complement the stones expertly selected by McTeigue, who also acquires and shows fine estate jewelry.
“When we moved into our new atelier,” says McClelland, “we foresaw the opportunity to have exhibits in the large, main showroom. The exhibits would not be jewelry, but [would be] jewelry related. With the great connections made at PIA that have endured across the disciplines, the notion of a jewelry box show made great sense.”
“It would be prohibitive to build and ship unique pieces of furniture cross-country,” agrees Del Guidice. “But creating a smaller piece, just as elegantly, allowed us all to participate.
For John S. Everdell of Charleston, Massachusetts, the artisans’ prolific careers as well as their close ties came about as a result of the PIA’s “intense and very organic” program. “We took classes in each other’s disciplines,” he recalls. “We learned what it was like to work outside of our own areas of expertise. It’s what allowed us to appreciate what each of us could do.” Everdell’s work uniquely combines the substantial look of New England furniture with a strong Oriental influence that he calls “premodernist.”
Throughout their careers, the 15 artisans have taken their talents to workshops and studios from coast to coast. Some have combined their creative passion with the opportunity to teach. Rosanne Somerson, for example, created the Rhode Island School of Design’s furniture department, and was recently named the institution’s president. Tom Loeser designs uniquely functional furniture while chairing the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s art department.
Whether the pursuit has been academic or the creation of elegant furniture, the precise skills of each of the 15 artisans presenting their work in “Modern Treasure Chests” has become the magnet that brought these long-distance friends back together. If each of the featured jewelry boxes could share an emotion, the show would likely be a collective expression of all of the joy of a Thanksgiving dinner that reunites a talented, resilient family.
Modern Treasure Chests is being presented at McTeigue & McClelland, 454 Main Street (Route 7) in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, through September 24 (Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm). For more information, visit MC2Jewels.com or call (800) 956-2826.