The New Hampshire Furniture Masters has moved its annual fall auction to 3S ArtSpace — a change that’s inspired a variety of twists and turns in the 21st annual event.
NHFM member John Cameron was inspired the first time he walked into the 3S gallery space, which was different from anywhere the group’s shown before, with cement floors and incredibly high ceilings.
“3S ArtSpace is a converted industrial space. It has raw power and is as big as most places, if not bigger than the ones we’ve shown in,” Cameron said via phone last week, a day after installation. “What intrigued me was the chance to really utilize the air, the space above everyone’s head. … All I could think was, I want to see furniture in the air!”
Enough people took him seriously that they handed the reins over to him to design the 2016 show’s layout.
“As soon as someone said yes, I just ran with it,” Cameron said. “I had a lot of fun putting this together.”
NHFM is a group of professional furniture artisans whose aim is to preserve the centuries-old tradition of fine furniture making, and one of its biggest events of the year is its annual auction.
At the time of Cameron’s phone interview, there were 22 pieces in the gallery by 14 members, plus some by a handful of students from the NHFM Prison Outreach Program, though Cameron was expecting four or five last-minute additions by the end of the show. Four hung in the air, the rest displayed along walls or on platforms. Ten will be presented in the live auction Sunday, Sept. 25, which also includes dinner with the masters later that evening catered by the 3S restaurant Block 6.
Cameron’s hope in the presentation is to allow viewers to be freer in how they think of modern furniture.
“Hopefully we’ve been able to pleasingly fill the space so that it looks well-balanced and right, yet still completely interesting and unexpected,” Cameron said. “Much of our work is formal; it’s eventually going to be put into formal use. But most of us are also creative in trying, in our way, to be innovative artists. I think this accentuates that.”
It’s not just the presentation that’s different this year; many featured pieces aren’t functional or contain modern details.
“I think that the organization is maturing a bit. The members are actually multi-faceted people. For years, every piece in the show had to be furniture, furniture, furniture. But then we thought, wait a minute. This guy does sculpture. That guy also does sculpture,” NHFM Chair Jeffrey Cooper said.
So why not allow some more creative freedom?
One of Cooper’s pieces is a sculpture, “Madonna and Child,” made from a 120-pound piece of cherry wood someone — he still doesn’t know who — left on his doorstep. Another member, Jeff Roberts, also strayed from his normally traditional work; one of his pieces, “Alice & The Woodland,” contains caterpillar and leaf carvings on its legs. Hanging from the ceiling are a rake and a ladder, and on the wall is a heart sculpture.
Cameron thinks New England’s taste in handmade furniture is changing.
“I spent most of my life in New England, but I went to school on the West Coast. I was told, if I went back east with modern furniture, nobody would ever buy it — that on the East Coast, everyone wants traditional reproduction colonial furniture. I think now we’re starting to appreciate modern furniture and modern design. The hottest stuff selling nowadays is the stuff from the ’60s and ’70s,” Cameron said.
Auctions have been held across the state — at the Currier Museum of Art, the Mount Washington Resort, Wentworth by the Sea and the New Hampshire Historical Society. The past two years, it was at the Sheraton Harborside Hotel.
All these were successful, but at 3S, NHFM found everything it needed — a stage with plentiful seating, gallery space and restaurant — all in one venue. Because of this, the event’s structure is different for 2016 as well, spanning two weeks instead of one day. The first night of the exhibition, the group held a social media presentation, and a week before the auction, it would hold one about its prison program.
The hope, Cooper said, is that more people come and check it out.
“As an artist, you just want people to see your stuff. You’re sitting there, making [furniture], and you’re putting your heart into it, and when you put it on display, you want people to see it. So I’m just hoping lots and lots of people will make the effort to walk down to 3S, go into the gallery and see what’s there,” Cooper said. “It’s nice for us to have such a contemporary space for such a traditional form.”