Inspired by China

Released May 19, 2006

On View: Oct. 28, 2006 to March 4, 2007

Location: Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
Salem, MA 01970

About the Exhibition:


              Alter Altar Table, 2006, Clifton Monteith. Oak, willow twigs, black and cinnabar urushi lacquer. Photograph by Dennis Helmar.   Square Table (detail), 18th century. Huanghuali, ivory or bone. Photograph by Dean Powell.

Chinese design has long been a source of inspiration for European and American furnituremakers––the Chippendale style of the mid-18th century, the Aesthetic style of the late 19th century, and modernist design during the 1930s and 1940s, are some of the more well-known examples. Inspired by China: Contemporary Furnituremakers Explore Chinese Traditions brings together 29 stellar examples of historic Chinese furniture, with 28 new works made for the exhibition. The 22 f

urnituremakers who made the new works––from the United States, Canada, and China are each recognized as leaders in the burgeoning field of studio furniture. Over a three-day workshop at the Peabody Essex Museum in June 2005, they viewed the Chinese pieces for the first time, including ­­­­­­­­­­hardwood and lacquered altar tables (long, narrow tables designed for displaying objects or ceremonial offerings); a large square table with cabriole legs and exquisite elephant head carvings made of bone; a selection of chairs including a 16th to 17th century arm chair in the fine, restrained style of the Ming dynasty, and a number of drum shaped stools made from a variety of materials such as stone, bamboo, ceramic, cloisonné, and huanghuali wood.

The workshop gave the artists a rare opportunity to directly explore signature works of Chinese historic furniture and to exchange ideas with fellow artists from across North America and China. They then returned to their studios to make something new inspired by their experience. The results, including an incense stand fashioned of electrical wire (Inception Stand) by Gordon Peteran, a table made primarily of oak and willow twigs (Alter Altar Table) by Clifton Monteith, and a wooden stool reconceived as a U shape by Shao Fan (Round Stool), are fascinating for their dynamic range of creative responses and use of materials. All 57 objects can be seen at the exhibition from Oct. 28 to March 4, 2007.

Inspired by China: Contemporary Furnituremakers Explore Chinese Traditions includes a catalogue with essays by curators Nancy Berliner and Edward S. Cooke, Jr. The following is excerpted from the introduction:

In North America, where studio furniture has blossomed since the 1950s as a vibrant field with a strong professional identity, few furniture artists had enjoyed firsthand experience with Chinese forms, materials, and techniques. In China, studio furniture is less developed, but an increasing number of sculptors, designers, and furniture connoisseurs are demonstrating an interest in broader notions of furniture making. Few of these Chinese artists had any knowledge of the studio furniture community in North America and its wide variety of approaches. Bringing the two groups of artists together with a common focus on historic material thus provided an opportunity for creative and professional interaction.

For the American participants, the gathering was an opportunity to experience firsthand, and in-hand, the legendarily precise workmanship of Chinese furniture, prized and revered among woodworkers, and to study a wide diversity of furniture from China.

The Chinese furnituremakers traveled half-way around the globe to reencounter a full representation of their own culture’s history and to come in contact with the perspectives, ideas, techniques, and works of their American counterparts, whom they had never met. Joining these studio furnituremakers, were two traditional Chinese furnituremakers from the rural reaches of Anhui Province.

The workshop and the resulting Inspired by China exhibition are an important step in a new cross-cultural exchange between America and China. We trust that this endeavor is only the first of a sustained period of interaction, one that will not homogenize the furniture of the world but highlight the regional traditions and spawn new hybrids.––Nancy Berliner & Edward S. Cooke

Participating artists:

Ai Weiwei, Beijing, CHINA
Garry Knox Bennett, Oakland, CA
Bonnie Bishoff, Rockport, MA
Yeung Chan, Millbrae, CA
Michael Cullen, Petaluma, CA
John Dunnigan, West Kingston, RI
Hank Gilpin, Lincoln, RI
Tom Hucker, Jersey City, NJ
Michael Hurwitz, Philadelphia, PA
Silas Kopf, Northampton, MA
Wendy Maruyama, San Diego, CA
Judy McKie, Cambridge, MA
Clifton Monteith, Lake Ann, MI
Brian Newell, Atsugi, JAPAN
Gordon Peteran, Toronto, CANADA
Richard Prisco, Savannah, GA
Michael Puryear, Shokan, NY
Shao Fan, Beijing, CHINA
Shi Jianmin, Beijing, CHINA
Tian Jiaqing, Beijing, CHINA
J.M. Syron, Rockport, MA
Joe Tracy, Mt. Desert, ME

CURATORS: Nancy Berliner, Curator of Chinese Art, Peabody Essex Museum

Edward S. Cooke, Jr., guest curator and Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts, Department of the History of Art at Yale University

PUBLICATION: Fully Illustrated catalogue (160 pp, 142 color plates) produced by Marquand Books, Seattle, including a foreword by Dan Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum, and essays by Nancy Berliner and Edward S. Cooke, Jr.

MEDIA PREVIEW: A media preview for Inspired by China will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006. Please RSVP to or call 978-745-9500 x3228.

IMAGES: High resolution digital images are available.


PR Contacts:

April Swieconek  -  Director of Public Relations  -  978-745-9500 X3109  -

Whitney Van Dyke  -  Director of Communications  -  978-542-1828  -

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