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Furniture in Florida Craftsmen Gallery art exhibit is fabulous and functional

ST. PETERSBURG

Peas and carrots. Craft and furniture. Classic combinations each, I thought, looking at a new exhibition at Florida Craftsmen Gallery. The comparison isn't as weird as it might seem. The chairs, tables and various other pieces in the show address body and soul in their usefulness and aesthetic.

A file cabinet, for example. Who has not bemoaned its stolid ugliness while embracing its necessity? Joseph Cleghorn's version is a thing of beauty. Made of birch, painted with a pebbly black finish (an auto body product, I'm told), its drawer fronts of bamboo laminate stained a cool lime green. You would never guess what it is until you slide open its angled drawers.

Other objects announce their purpose more readily while delivering a similar sense of surprise in their design and details. Three rocking chairs lined up along a wall are a far cry from a Cracker Barrel restaurant porch. Two by Kirk Moss and Larry Roofner hew to a traditional look, and the other, armless one by Frank Barr has slinky bentwood lines. All are crafted with touches that are hallmarks of fine craft: wood inlays, clever manipulation of the wood, a reverence for its grain. And, just as in a furniture store, you can touch them, sit in them, try them out.

A jewelry case would seem, in theory, more suited to a rich dowager than an average homebody but try to resist the seductiveness of David Bradford's take, more a small, multitasking cabinet. If you don't have the baubles, bangles and beads to fill it, nuts and bolts would work just fine. (Just not in the garage — it's too pretty to hide.)

Justin Chastain really honors the grain in his St. Johns River table of recycled red cedar. It's slickly varnished with a high shine that shows off the gorgeous furls of a tree's interior life and inlaid with a small piece of ebonized cypress that looks a little like a butterfly.

The exhibition is more than a presentation of interesting furniture. It's one of several, past and future, demonstrating that fine craft furniture can fit just as easily into a home as the mass-produced kind. In fact, it fits very well with more generic furnishings. And, judging from the prices on wall labels, it is often as affordable.

You can choose a really eccentric item that makes a big signature statement (Fred Russell's chair of cardboard layers held together with chain-link fence post caps would do that job). You might prefer Ernest Liporto's no-nonsense chair, a new take on one made by Ben Franklin that converts to a stepladder (with nice brass hinges, by the way), or Chill Cott Group's raffia seated offering. Both would contribute to but not overwhelm any room.

Contributing to the sense of home inclusion is art hanging over some of the furniture, simulating a real environment and most also for sale. If I could, I would buy Enee Abelman's set of 12 small plexiglass shadowboxes holding fragments of love letters sewn with dried rose petals along with Bradford's sideboard because they look so perfect together.

So eat your veggies. Consider fine craft furniture. You'll find nourishment and comfort in both.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

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Buy Florida, By Florida: Furniture and Original Design

The show is at Florida Craftsmen Gallery, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through May 15. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free. (727) 821-7391; floridacraftsmen.net.

Furniture in Florida Craftsmen Gallery art exhibit is fabulous and functional 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:30am]

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