For 30 years, the fine furniture program at Camosun College has been a place for students to explore their art through woodworking and joinery.
Some 500 graduates have gone on to careers in the industry across the Island and Lower Mainland, and in recognition of those achievements the college will exhibit the design work of 30 students at the University of Victoria’s Legacy Gallery, now on until Sept. 22.
Chairs are the focus of Making It: A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Camosun College’s Fine Furniture Program. Such a commonly used piece of furniture provides an interesting foundation for creativity, says co-curator Ken Guenter, who retired from teaching in the program in 2017.
“It was such a delight to teach a program where the students loved being in school,” Guenter says with a laugh of his almost two decades running the program with its founder, Cam Russell.
It was only meant to be a one-year trial program – back in 1987 – to see if there was interest and “it really caught on,” Guenter says, perched atop a wooden stool he built, part of the exhibition.
When the pair retired, they handed the reins to former graduate Sandra Carr who has been at the helm since.
“One of the aspects of the program … I believe is very important is the gender diversity component,” he says. “The percentage of women in our program and in the furniture making trade or craft in general is much higher than the norm in other trades.”
Visitors moving around the exhibition will get the opportunity for a guided tour with Guenter and Russell (Aug. 9 and 23) and in a bold move well outside museum norms, will be able to actually sit on some of the more innovative pieces in the show.
That, coupled with the “Design a Chair” wall where visitors are encouraged to draw their own sketches inspired by the show, really creates an interactive experience, Guenter says.
“Exhibitions like this are so helpful because people come to these and go, ‘that was made in Victoria?’” says Guenter, who has seen many client/craftsperson relationships grown from exhibitions like these gaining popularity again.
The importance of considering furniture making as a fine art is what Guenter focused many of his lectures on.
In the 80’s it was quite common to have exhibitions of furniture in art galleries, he explains, but the hierarchy of the arts gave way to this notion that craftspeople weren’t artists.
“As we got into the late ’90s and early 2000s that started to collapse,” he says. “Everyone is making a valuable contribution and I think this [exhibition] is a good example of that.”
UVic has a longstanding relationship with the instructors and students of the fine furniture program, initially by hosting the first exhibition of local furniture makers in 1982, which helped to found the Vancouver Island Woodworkers Guild and the Camosun program.
For more information visit uvac.uvic.ca or check out the gallery on social media.