Feature Mondays - Corrugated Dreams archive

Monday 5 January 2015

Jason Schneider tells us about how he came into furniture making, his career and his interesting plans for the future

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Woodworker Jason Schneider was born in Wayne, New Jersey in 1975. He grew up in Clifton, New Jersey and was the youngest of three boys, to his single mother. His grandparents lived above the boys and their mother and were a big part of Jason's childhood.

His grandfather was a woodworker, who built cabinets in his early years, before Jason was born. Jason's grandfather always had a workshop in the basement, but Jason never used it. During his childhood, Jason would tinker around with making hockey and football goals out of 2x4s and would enjoy turning his old trainers into rollerblades. Clearly Jason was always creative, telling us that he has always loved coming up with ideas and then figuring out how to make them come to life. "To this day the problem-solving process is my favourite part of my work,†he explains.

Jason studied art for the entirety of his school-life, but for a short time after high school he left art to one side and earned himself an associates degree in hotel restaurant management. He soon came to realise that the business of restaurants was not for him and made the decision to go back to school and study art again, at foundation level.

While back in education, Jason was also working in construction on the side and taking 3D art courses, when it suddenly made sense to him that he could be creative with his hands by building sculptures and functional objects. It was his grandfather who taught him the most in construction: "He would always give me advice on how to build things, tips of the trade and would show me how to work smarter." The pair even collaborated on pieces: "The first and biggest project we worked on together was when we made furniture for my mother's new hair salon. We made eight oak (Quercus spp.) workstations, each with two drawers and a hinged door to hold all of the tools needed to cut hair. We also made an oak desk and a very large oak bookcase," he tells us. Jason continues: "We made all of this in my grandfather's basement with his old tablesaw and Dewalt radial arm saw. It was amazing to see how versatile a radial arm saw could be. My grandfather taught me so much. I am so happy to have him and I owe him a great deal."

Jason finished his education earning a BFA in Furniture Design from William Paterson University in New Jersey and knowing that there was more to learn and experience in design, he moved to San Diego, California. Here, he earned an MFA in Furniture Design at San Diego State University. Over the years, Jason has won many awards in art and furniture shows, as well as a grant from the Furniture Society to purchase materials for his first body of corrugated work.

Anderson Ranch Arts Center

Jason works at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado and has done for the past 10 years. He gains inspiration for his work every day.

The programme was founded by people like Sam Maloof and David Ellsworth and over the years the ranch has had the best furniture makers from around the world visit, to teach summer workshops and design and make furniture of their own. This is a significant part of Jason's role, as he must maintain a high level of craft/awareness and the sharing of non-traditional and traditional craft techniques that has made the ranch, and the field of furniture, what it is today. Jason tells us that: "The artists who I am fortunate enough to work with, and the state-of-the-art studio and landscapes in which I am able to create in, is what helps drive my work today." Jason must manage the studio and staff, teach safety and workshops, order materials and maintain equipment.

It is Jason's responsibility to make sure that each student, resident, faculty and staff member has a great and inspiring experience. Jason also comes up with the summer and winter wood programme, inviting artists to go to the ranch and teach. This is Jason's favourite part of his job, as he gets to invite his woodworking heroes to work with him.

Favourite pieces

"They are all my favourite!" Jason says of picking a favourite piece of his own work. At a small push, Jason picks his top three: the first is his 'His and Her' cabinets. These cabinets were the first pieces that Jason made for his graduate thesis. He likes to have a story behind his pieces, and decided that he wanted the cabinets to mirror both the pretty side and the ugly side of the male and female relationship.

He explains of the cabinets: "I made one cabinet more masculine in the use of the wood choice - white oak (Quercus alba) - and some of the subtle choices of height and hard lines. The phallus in the 'male's' stretcher is a little more obvious. For the female side I used cherry wood (Prunus serotina) and softened the lines and height to suggest a feminine form. When they are together they support one another, like in a healthy relationship. But with many relationships that do not work out, they come apart, or break up. So they do not just topple over when they break up, they each have a hidden leg that swings out to support them until they connect to something in the future."

Jason's second chosen piece of his own work is called 'Committed'. He tells us that this piece is a little more personal to him as a furniture maker. The story behind this item is of being stuck in an unhealthy relationship, as someone close to him was. Jason made the piece based on someone's relationship, but it was only years later, after this person divorced that he saw Jason's work. The artist told us that the person loved it. The piece was made of many spinning drawers, which are surrounded by - or better yet 'trapped' by - a white picket fence. It is clear that Jason takes inspiration from emotion.

His final chosen piece is 'Spin'. It is the piece that Jason thinks of as his first successful piece of corrugated cardboard furniture. The drawer units in the piece spin individually, allowing the drawer arrangements to constantly change. Jason explains: "Spin does not have a story to tell, but it was a piece that excited me because of the use of materials and the interactive qualities of the spinning drawers.

"I feel like cabinets or chests of drawers have so much more to tell. It is the furniture form I have made the most. Although I feel this form can tell stories with the size, proportion, colour, material choice, functionality, etc., I almost always leave the drawers empty so that the user can tell their own story with what they choose to put in the space. Whether or not people look inside and interact with its contents only adds to the story."

Design ethos

When designing his furniture, Jason often begins the process by considering what the function of the piece will be. However, function is not always the start of his design process. Often, Jason begins his designs with the proportions of a piece, believing that scale and proportions can say a lot about a piece of furniture: "I get caught up in scale that relates to human scale, but I always try to stretch and push that notion," he explains.

Jason then goes on to thinking about the materials he will use, asking himself are they 'heavy?', 'soft?', 'aggressive?', etc., and thinking about what the material says about the work. Since corrugated cardboard has been Jason's main medium for making his pieces for the past several years, he often considers what other materials and colours could suggest about his work.

One common thread that has always been present in Jason's work is that of movement. Most of the functional or non-functional objects that Jason has made either spin or rotate. This movement adds one more step to the interactive qualities of furniture that Jason makes, creating a more dynamic than stagnant object, and one that is totally unique. In the sculpture, Jason enjoys asking the viewer to interact with the work, sometimes building up a patina with the many hands that touch the work.

Influences

Jason tells us he has been influenced by many furniture makers and artists during his career. In his early years it was people like Wendell Castle, Sam Maloof, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Louise Bourgeois and Barbara Hepworth. When Jason went to graduate school, he was exposed to the works of Tom Loeser, Andy Buck, Richard Ford, Wendy Maruyama, Garry Knox Bennett and Ed Kienholz. Wendy Maruyama was Jason's graduate teacher and a great friend of his. She ran a programme at San Diego State University and continues to help her students well after they graduate. Jason feels that he would not be where he is today if not for her.

Jason's family was, and still is, the biggest support for his goals and dreams. He tells us that his early teachers and classmates taught him so much that he is still surprised how much those life lessons come up in his day-to-day work.

Approach to design

Jason has learned over the years to be his own worst critic, questioning his decisions at every turn. He wants the viewer or user of his work to be challenged: to think about the piece and the decisions that he has made so that the story behind the item can be discovered. Some of the work Jason has made is more conceptual and some is more formal. Jason's conceptual work is at its best when he has something to say or after he has read some compelling literature. The formal side of Jason’s work comes more naturally as he has been trained this way.

"I think in corrugated cardboard," Jason tells us. "I was trained in wood, but everything I design and create is in corrugated cardboard. I approach my work as a woodworker, having access to a state-of-the-art woodshop at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center." A big part in working with corrugated cardboard is starting with a flat sheet of familiar cardboard stock and building the layers up to something that he can take to the machines. "I can change the direction of the corrugations and ultimately change the visual texture and transparency of the forms I make. I often combine painted wood elements to complement and help support the cardboard," Jason explains.

Tool-wise, Jason mainly uses the tablesaw, bandsaw, the woodturning lathe and sanders and grinders.

The future

Jason has recently considered letting go of the control he has over the corrugated cardboard and collaborate with, or explore, things like moisture of plaster. He has been exploring what happens with the craft paper and the moisture of some of the other materials he uses - always making sure to ask his customers 'will the furniture be in a very humid area?', as water is the 'enemy' of corrugated cardboard furniture - such as plaster, wax and cement. He also wants to share some of his polished work with cats, to see what kind of texture they can come up with using their claws on the pieces. Although, Jason points out: "It will be a struggle to give something you have laboured over to a cat, to wreak havoc on!" This is not something Jason has tried yet, but certainly plans to do 'A collaboration with a cat!'

While Jason explores these concepts, he will always work with corrugated cardboard in a 2D and 3D manner, creating furniture, sculpture and flat 2D work. For more examples of his work, see Jason's website.

Maker's maker: Wendell Castle

Wendell Castle is an artist who challenges the traditional boundaries of functional design. He is the reason why I, and so many other American studio furniture makers, chose to follow this path of making furniture. I was exposed to Wendell Castle's work in the early stages of my career. It was my first woodworking professor, Alan Lazarus, who showed me his work. He studied with Wendell and shared a similar aesthetic in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The look of his work was first thin and sculpted with beautifully crafted joinery in a completely shaped construction. In the early 1960s, volume was introduced. He found his inspiration not from other furniture makers, but from sculptors like Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore.

To explore this interest in sculpting wood, Wendell created a way where he can build up a form by laminating wood, layer by layer so that he could efficiently extract his desired form. The work was less about the sculpted joinery, but rather the building up of solid wood and the subtraction of the excess to reveal the sculpted object. The object was often functional, but it is very obvious that function was not Wendell's primary goal.

Wendell Castle managed to bridge the gap that so many studio furniture makers attempt today, often with very little success. We struggle with the notion of how furniture can be regarded as sculpture, or as a work of art. To be honest, I do not believe it can, but Wendell Castle is the person who came the closest to solving this problem.


Woodworkers Institute

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