Fine Furniture program celebrates 30 years with exciting anniversary exhibition
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Cam Russell and Ken Guenter complete each other's sentences with the ease that comes with three decades of a close working relationship that has forged a remarkable professional partnership.
"We first met at the Maltwood exhibition of cabinet-makers and furniture-makers in 1982," says Russell. "After that ended we wanted to do more of those exhibitions so we got together to found the Vancouver Island Woodworking Guild and in one way or another we've worked together ever since."
Over the years, they've taught together and collaborated on many special projects, before both retiring from Camosun College last year as the acknowledged ‘dream team' of co-leaders from the college's Fine Furniture program. Now, they are collaborating again on a special exhibit, looking back at the program's many successes over the years.
The exhibition entitled: "Making It: A 30 Year Retrospective Celebration of Camosun College's Fine Furniture Program" runs from July 14 to September 22 at University of Victoria's Legacy Art Gallery on Yates Street. "The idea is to look back at the graduates and see what they've accomplished since," says Guenter. "I believe that the Fine Furniture program is responsible for a great deal of the furniture-making industry on Vancouver Island and we want to bring people together and give the public an idea of the program and the range of high end furniture that is being manufactured right here on the Island." The exhibit showcases 33 graduates representing the three decade span of the program who will display a variety of new furniture designs and styles.
The program's origins way back in the 1980s combine a little bit of luck with a lot of determination and represent a long-term partnership between Russell and Guenter as well as Camosun and UVic. In 1987, Russell and Guenter were teaching furniture-making at a small private institution downtown that ran out of money. "I arrived one day and there were padlocks on the door," recalls Russell. "We were six weeks into a six-month course and the students were despondent." Instead of giving up, the students rallied to save the course, advocating their cause with local politicians and officials and their plight reached the ears of the head of Camosun's carpentry shop. "At that time there was excess capacity in the shop, so he offered to take the students on and finish the course," says Russell. "That was a success and we ran it again the following year and next thing you know, it just kept going and here we are 30 years later."
Over the years, Russell has introduced his students to UVic's impressive Maltwood collection of furniture gems, allowing them to understand the evolution and culture of furniture over the centuries. "Not many people know that there's a vault at UVic with incredible furniture from the Maltwood family collection," says Russell. "For years, we partnered with UVic to take our students down there and introduce them to a whole world of furniture history."
In 2000, Russell became Chair of Architectural Trades at Camosun and gave his friend Ken a call to join him in teaching the program. "I'd been teaching continuing education courses for many years at the college and subbing in the fine furniture program occasionally, but at the time I was living in Courtenay," says Guenter. "Teaching full-time was a good opportunity to move back to Victoria." Guenter's fine arts degree and interest in design added a historical element to the curriculum.
Guenter started teaching his students the history of furniture-making and design around the world. "Our furniture history program was from ancient Egypt to today with all stops in between in China, Japan, England, Europe, neo-classical, arts and crafts, and more," says Guenter. "And part of the whole design process was research, learning as much as you can about the piece, the wood, the materials, the joinery techniques. We wanted our students to understand all aspects of furniture-making."
Over 30 years, student furniture preferences have changed dramatically. "We started off where people would do a lot of period reproductions of different historical styles, " says Russell. "In the last ten years, everyone's doing mid-century modern." There's also been a resurgence of interest in Japanese joinery, notes Guenter. "It's the most complex way you could possibly put two pieces of wood together, but our students love it."
The fine furniture program teaches foundational joinery trades skills to up to 18 students each year. To date, over 500 students have graduated from their classes which since 2008 have been held in the spacious hall of a former diesel-engine rebuilding shop at Camosun's Interurban campus. At the end of each year, students are assigned the challenge of making a special project chair using western maple. Each chair must meet a standardized shipping test for size and weight. Russell notes the diversity of seating on display has always been impressive from classic to modern designs with all sorts of shapes and finishes. "We've had so many unique designs over the years and we're also pleasantly surprised at the calibre of what is produced," notes Russell.
Program graduates are constantly in demand and Russell and Guenter note that local businesses employ many former students, or the students themselves go on to create their own businesses. "One of my favourite things right at the end of the year was we'd start getting calls from grads from many years ago, people who'd gone out and started their own businesses or who are now in management roles, and they were phoning to ask about hiring our current students," says Russell. "We've seen so many grads hiring grads, and that's made the program special. And with the exhibition now, we're really coming full circle."
What magical mix of ingredients makes a high quality piece of furniture? Russell and Guenter are in agreement. "It goes back to the whole idea of form and function," says Guenter. "If the form is pleasing to the eye and it works the way it's supposed to then it's a success." Russell chimes in: "It's got to be a chair that you can actually sit on and looks nice as well."
Making It: A 30 Year Retrospective Celebration of Camosun College's Fine Furniture Program
The public is invited to visit the Legacy Art Gallery from July 14 to September 22, where high quality alumni furniture successes will be on display as part of the Fine Furniture program's special 30th anniversary celebrations.
- Wednesdays-Saturdays 10am-4pm
Thirty-three exceptional alumni artists from Camosun's Fine Furniture program have been invited to create new works that celebrate the process of designing and building seating, a foundational component and tradition of the program. The show is jointly curated by Ken Guenter, Cam Russell, and Caroline Riedel from UVic's Legacy Gallery.
For more information, please visit the Legacy Gallery website.
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Cam Russell, Morning Coffee in the Sun - Afternoon Tea in the Shade, White Oak and Bicycle Parts, 2018.
“...Part of the whole design process was research, learning as much as you can about the piece, the wood, the materials, the joinery techniques. We wanted our students to understand all aspects of furniture-making.”~Ken Guenter, retired Program Leader of Camosun's Fine Furniture program
Last updated: September 21, 2018 9:46 am