Form Meets Function
The handmade, custom work of these six accomplished Hudson Valley furniture makers blurs the distinction between fine art and craftsmanship
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Ulster Park, 845-658-3584
“Maker of Things” declares Rob Hare’s promotional card, which sums up his down-to-earth approach, but doesn’t suggest how fine some of those Things are.
Hare, originally from Connecticut, earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from the University of Cincinnati, and moved to the Hudson Valley in 1973. Like many an artist, in the early days he taught and worked as a cabinetmaker to pay the bills. (Among his first commissions were the showcases for Hummingbird Jewelers in Rhinebeck.) Although he created large, geometric metal sculptures in grad school, the limited space in his Red Hook house didn’t permit such work. He needed to scale down. “My grandmother had beautifully crafted old boxes in her living room that I wasn’t allowed to touch,” Hare says, remembering in particular a lap desk that opened to reveal little drawers and compartments.
The leather chair and matching sofa are constructed of forged steel and coopered wood (pieced as in building a barrel) that’s matched so that the grain follows through
Inspired by that, Hare began making boxes as sculpture, although exhibiting them in New York City galleries didn’t pan out. “Uptown they thought the work was too weird, and downtown they said it was too conservative,” he remembers with a laugh. “But friends in the city who saw the boxes said, ‘Oh, if you can build that, you could make a table. You could do cabinet work.’ ” Before long, he was making furnishings for a roster of clients, among them Maud Frizon (he designed and crafted fixtures for her ritzy Manhattan shoe store). Hare found he enjoyed creating furniture. “It represented a big step up in income, too,” he says. “Sometime in the early ’90s, I became a furniture maker full time.”
Nowadays Hare, 61, lives with his wife, Iza Trapani, a children’s book author and illustrator, in a Tuscan-style farmhouse that they designed and Hare helped build. His workshop, a round building that he also constructed himself, has plenty of bench and machine space, as well as room for his forged metal work — an important element in Hare’s designs. “A lot of people use metal in furniture, but in my work it’s not decorative — the wood and metal are structural.
“Artists often think craftspeople are beneath them,” Hare observes. “I’m a sculptor at heart, but I love making things, and I don’t mind that my creative energies go into making furniture. Future generations can decide whether it’s art.”