For more than three decades, Garry Knox Bennett has been at the vanguard of furniture making with his unusual tables, desks, chairs, clocks and lamps. Working in the face of woodworking purists, Bennett became one of the first furniture craftsmen to use Formica, plastic, aluminum and other unconventional materials in his pieces. In “Elevating the Everyday,” Spark visits the artist at work as he produces chairs for an exhibition called “Garry Knox Bennett: Preoccupations of a Serial Chairmaker.”
Bennett has gained a reputation in the world of woodworking as something of a revolutionary for his daring innovations and often whimsical creations, perhaps best demonstrated in his piece “Nail Cabinet” (1979). In part as a response to the woodworking mainstream, Bennett produced a lavishly crafted cabinet that rivaled even the most canonical examples of the form. When the piece was finished, Bennett drove a large nail into the cabinet’s door, scandaling the more traditional woodworkers.
Bennett’s “Preoccupations of a Serial Chairmaker” is composed of 50 chairs for an Oakland Museum of California offsite exhibition (January 20 through March 25, 2005) at Gallery 555 and the Sculpture Court. Several of the chairs rework Gerrit Rietveld’s 1934 design, the classic Zig Zag, whereas others offer modifications to standard mass-produced garden and lawn chairs. The diversity of pieces is a reflection of Bennett’s working method: Rather than beginning with sketches and drawings, Bennett goes straight to the materials, working them part by part into a finished idea. It is a technique that allows Bennett the freedom to change the direction of a piece several times before it is complete.
In addition to being a renowned master craftsman and innovator, Bennett is also a collector of rare and unusual furnishings and decorative objects. He and his wife, Sylvia, share a collection that spans 40 years, selections from which formed the inaugural show at San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design, “Dovetailing Art and Life: The Bennett Collection,” in 2004.