POINTE-AUX PINS: Northern Reflections and Folksy findings
The driving force of my capstone concept has been making visually expressive functional and “homely” furniture and décor that fuses traditional design with contemporary manufacturing methods. This framework has presented many different avenues for investigation and research including exploring symbolism, the synthesis of “hand-madeness” with automated machining and the use of “makers marks” or insignia to signify the presence of the maker and the quality associated. However, one essential element remained unknown; What is the story or theme that will guide and contextualize the physicality and emotional quality of design?
The driving force of my capstone concept has been making visually expressive functional and “homely” Furniture and décor that fuses traditional design with contemporary manufacturing methods. This framework has presented many different avenues for investigation and research including exploring ornamentation, the synthesis of “hand-madeness” with automated machining and the use of “makers marks” or insignia to signify the presence of the maker and the quality associated. However, one essential element remained unknown until recently; What is the story or theme that will guide and contextualize the physicality and emotional quality of design?
This life force of the proposed collection eluded me until a recent visit to my Grandparents’ cabin in Northern Ontario, where they lived for most of their long lives. Once back in the time capsule that was their home in the forest did it become obvious to me it wasn’t about a specific narrative or “theme” but about continuing the tradition of expression through objects, designed and built with heart and joy and an embrace of the reflective nature of craft along the way. Through reflecting on these philosophies and the folkloric quality of handmade crafts, I intend to create objects of the same emotionally communicative effect.
My grandparents were prolific creators, collectors and above all, story tellers and had an immense influence on my character, design sensibilities and aesthetic interests. My grandfather was a talented woodworker, scavenger, green thumb and a prolific maker (not to mention sharp dresser). My Grandma Mary was a writer, local historian, painter, quilter, rug-hooker and made the best blueberry cheesecake imaginable. Their collective skills and personalities were obvious in the home that they crafted, adorned with objects of their creation and memorabilia of their rich and full lives. Their particular stories are personal to me, but the methods and means they expressed them are universal. It is my goal to continue this folklore into the modern age, and invite others to reflect on their own heritage and histories and what it means to be "home".
In my researching method I have focused on two major areas; the theoretical and the practical. Theoretically; the examination and history of ornamentation as a source of individual expression. Practically; artists and makers whom employ the vernacular in their design and create objects of reflection and contemplation.
In James Trilling’s analysis of ornamental design history he discusses two major approaches to ornamentation; the personal and local motifs and symbolism used as a form of visual colloquialism, often used for the embrace and celebration of a specific culture and time as well as the individuals ability and skills ie; mural art and tattoos. The other is the ornament of established, historical forms and how they have evolved and changed. He also presents a critical examination of modernism and its rejection to ornamentation, and how modernist design aesthetic neglected technical skill and mastery in the face of efficiency and mass-production. The Language of Ornament provides many reflections on how ornamentation has been used to communicate personal expression by artists and craftspeople to elevate the form, and function of objects. This is relevant to my search for motifs and symbolism, and the desire to express emotion and narrative through the use of ornamentation.
Michael Owen Jones has published many essays and books on the sociological, political and aesthetic properties of folk-art and folklore. This book examines the application of personal histories and events through the communicative nature of design and making and how this transcends the written, or literal. It also discusses the congenial quality of folk-art traditions and how they can be applied to society at large. This text is particularly relevant to my concept development for it focuses largely on folklore as a vessel for passing on information, history and lessons from generation to generation.
“Whether they use the term "folklore," "folklife," or "oral traditions," most folklorists probably would agree that the forms and processes studied have in common at least three characteristics. They are symbolic, they are learned or generated in people's firsthand interactions, and they are traditional, exhibiting continuities and consistencies in thought and behaviour through time and space, respectively. (pg.2)”
Wojcik, Daniel. Outsider Art, Vernacular Traditions, trauma and creativity. Western States Folklore Society, 2008.
This essay discusses and challenges the social prejudices associated with “outsider artists” or those that have no particular formal artistic training but produce artwork that is reflective of their surroundings, experiences and society. He closely references Michael Owen Jones own research into the “behavioural perspective” many vernacular artists operate within; communicating a deeper feeling of individualism, trauma and a need to express.
This heavily illustrated history of decoration and visual communication characterizes signs, symbols and ornamentation by their cultural and historical significance. It is an analysis, and like the language of ornamentation a criticism on the demonization of ornamentation by modernism and expresses the need for a return to ornamentation in design. The book is quite dated but offers a very succinct history and evolution of symbols and their meanings as well as particular styles and movements in ornamental design. Signs, Symbols and Ornaments may act as a source book to help develop motifs or act as a “pictionary” or sourcebook to help establish visual language.
This extensive catalog of American Shaker furniture, utilitarian objects and illustrations expresses the Shakers unparalleled capability of creating perfectly utilitarian, unpretentious, graceful objects. It also presents a new perspective on the Shakers use of decoration in the form of vibrant colour, proportion in form, calligraphy and illustration. The Shaker design principles and aesthetic will prove an excellent resource in relation to emulating many of the styles popular pre-modernity.
BDDW remains one of my most influential and awe-inspiring furniture and décor design houses. This stool in particular, as with many of their designs speaks to an applied antiquity and ingenuity of material use. Their work often incorporates metal, leather and wood in a collage of forms that express the eccentricity, and diversity of current design trends. BDDW also examines and showcases the maker in all of their productions, sometimes allowing the individual maker to stamp his or her personal insignia or initials in the work. This presence of the “makers mark” elevates the designs and connects the user to the object through the applied history and story conjured by the mark.
Wharton Esherick is another influential designer who had the capability of transcending material and history, inventing ethereal forms and objects that sweep the observer away. Much like BDDW, Esherick’s furniture designs incorporate a multitude of materials and engage with history and a sense of timelessness and mystery. Common in much of Esherick’s work is the presence of his insignia, which is often quite blatantly as to express “here I was”.