Extraordinary Chairs

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on June 1st, 2016

During this busy four-day workweek, the Woodson Art Museum’s crack team of art handlers will take down, pack up, and ship the Walter Wick exhibition as well as lay out and install The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design, which opens Saturday, June 4.


Other museum professionals might be concerned at the thought of changing five galleries of art in just four days, but I know our team can and will do it, and do it in style.



designed and manufactured by John Henry Belter, New York City, Slipper Chair (Grape Vine and Oak Leaf), ca. 1860, photo by Douglas J. Eng

The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design impressed me the first time I viewed images of the exhibition. The stunning selection of chairs includes some rare and beautiful objects. For example, the handcrafted 19th century Slipper Chair, with carved grape vines and oak leaves in rosewood is a fine example of the quality craftsmanship from this period. This chair sits inches lower than most chairs to reduce the required reach to change slippers while seated.



designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, manufactured by Steelcase Corporation, Grand Rapids, MI, Johnson Wax Company Chair, ca. 1938, photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew VanStyn

From ornate to austere, the exhibition includes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Company Chair, which when designed in 1938 incorporated simple circular-shaped cushion backs and seats combined with painted metal tubing to create a modern look for a functional office chair.



designed by Harry Bertoia, manufactured by Knoll Associates, New York City, Large Diamond Lounge Chair, ca. 1952, photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew VanStyn

A wonderful example of mid-century furniture is Harry Bertoia’s Large Diamond Lounge Chair. Its nestlike pocket offers an informal and relaxing space to curl up in.



designed and manufactured by Kenneth Smythe, Oakland, CA, Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 Chair , 2003, photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew VanStyn

The selection of 20th century chairs includes several bold designs. Kenneth Smythe’s brightly colored Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 combines birch laminate, plastics, leather, steel, and foam rubber to create a modern multi-component chair that looks as if its mechanical parts could easily transform into another object.


During your summer Woodson Art Museum visits, pause to take a photo in the oversized Adirondack chair that Joe Ruelle and Dave Jones made in our workshop. The large purple chair sits next to the parking lot entrance. Share your photos on social media; #bigwoodsonchair.

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