Saturday, February 12, 2011

Judy Kensley McKie

I did a search for notable women woodworkers and chose Judy Kensley McKie partly because there's an extensive and intimate interview online ( and because her work involved both furniture and sculpture. Also, she started out by studying graphic arts, which personally appealed to me.

Her father worked for a greeting card company and enjoyed making simple furniture, a hobby he passed on to Judy. Her mother made the greeting cards for the same company. Judy started making small simple pieces like tables for herself after she finished her degree until friends started asking her to make them furniture. She had always had an affinity for building things but she didn't associate this interest as a career focus until later. Painting was her original focus.

She a big figure in the "american studio furniture movement" (1940-1990) which is a period where furniture and art blurred; furniture are one-of-a-kind pieces created in studios.

Her work is characterized by strong forms with whimsy in the treatment of animal/organic forms that recur through her work. She is appreciative of woodworking in other cultures with decorative elements that do not take away from the overall form. She has worked in a large variety of ways with a variety of materials from stone, wood, painting, casting in bronze, etc., and hates to repeat herself.

I thought it was interesting that she started out by making functional, simple furniture "for the people" in a cooperative where she learned from other woodworkers. She then wanted to make them more personal with carvings of animal figures that she still uses today.

I also found that her son was murdered senselessly and she used that experience to create a sculpture to help grieving parents manage their loss. Even during so-called mental breaks, she works to get through the period, often using the material in future pieces.


Abstract Headboard
carved basswood
40" x 63" x 1 3/4"


Tiger Table
cast bronze
(I had to lift the image from the gallery website because I accidentally deleted my own)

Kaare Klint

Kaare Klint (1888-1954) was an early Danish modernist furniture designer who was inspired by Shaker furniture and who was concerned primarily with the ergonomics and function of furniture. He was the first director of the Copenhagen Art Academy's furniture-making school, building upon his interest in design theory through the activities he chose for his students several of whom also became important furniture designers.

He had his students dissect furniture from the inside out, focusing on use rather than aesthetics. As a craftsman, he also focused on purity of construction and materials which was part of who he was as a design theorist.

"New forms for furniture types should not, according to Kaare Klint, represent a radical break with tradition but should rather be viewed as an evolutionary development of existing forms that had proved their worth. Kaare Klint's teachings formed the basis for the renewal of Danish design after 1945."

During the same period when Bauhaus was denying its historical heritage in order to discover an ideal, Klint embraced history to do the same, focusing on evolving from past furniture designs. He took a long to time to research and prepare the pieces he was creating.

I looked into this furniture designer while exploring George Nakashima and similar modernist designers. I was drawn into Klint's focus on ergonomics and the care he took to make an absolutely functional piece of furniture. I thought it was interesting that he started as a painter because the functional purpose of his work, the core of his work, was also balanced by an aesthetic development.

He looked to earlier pieces of furniture and improved on them functionally while distilling their aesthetics to only modern necessities: no decorations, clean lines, and great materials.

Deck Chair (1933) (source:

Safari chair (1933) (Source: