February 7, 2023

Furniture Makers

We Speak Furniture

Poetic Reproduction


Article Image

Synopsis: Every piece that Don Miller builds gives him an opportunity to experiment with woodworking history and traditional forms and techniques, and to make them his own.

For Don Miller, a teacher and furniture maker in Philadelphia, woodworking is time travel. Each piece of furniture he builds is an exploration of the history of the craft, an opportunity to experiment among its traditional forms and techniques. Some of his pieces are closely modeled on originals, but he doesn’t aim to re-create the antiques. Instead he presents a poet’s reproduction, taking license to express the essence without relying on exactitude. With bleach and sandblasting or white-pigmented varnish, he erases the surface, and grain and color are mostly gone. This elucidates the form, and something faintly familiar from centuries ago snaps into focus. Toying with technique gives him another way to explore the craft and overlap its eras. In outline, his gridded piece (left) is a very close reproduction of an 18th-century Swedish bedside stand. But rather than build it from solid wood like the original, Miller glued up undulating sheets of shopmade plywood, one for each side of the piece, and mitered them together. The grids he added to it, like the slatted skins and surfaces of other pieces, provide texture while urging a viewer to consider the interior.

—Jonathan Binzen

Photos: Ken Yanoviak

From Fine Woodworking #284

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