Feature Mondays - David Sinaguglia archive

Monday 28 July 2014

We look at the varied work of American artist and contemporary furniture maker David Sinaguglia


David Sinaguglia is an artist working in a variety of different media, ranging from boat building and furniture design to sculpture, video art and photography. He is based in Hartford, Connecticut.

Boat building

David has spent the past two years training at the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in Newport, Rhode Island, which he describes as "a traditional plank-frame boat-building school". This kind of work is not only hands-on, it's also 'eyes-on', as David explains: "When choosing stock for frames one needs to always be looking for grain runout that will let go when steam bent onto its mould. Right out of the gate, on the lofting floor you can spend considerable time tweaking and re-fairing lines. Lofting is the process of drawing the boat out in full scale in three views that all correspond with each other - there is the profile, body plan and diagonals that all need to run fair together. There is not a line on a boat that has not been battened out and scrutinised."

He describes a power plane as 'a lifesaver' for this type of work, but

hand tools also have their place. "There are shapes and joints that power tools have a hard time with, such as the rolling bevels in the rabbet that run the length of the boat," he says. The market for handmade wooden boats is definitely a niche one. David tells us that sailboat lovers are keen to maintain the 'pedigree' of yachts for historic, personal and - he hopes - aesthetic reasons. He has been inspired by the incredible work of boat designers such as Olin Stephens, William Fife and Nat Herreshoff, and believes it needs to be preserved. "Restoration is a matter of historic preservation as much as it's about building a seaworthy vessel. I spent six years solely looking at the arts and it was not until I turned to boat building that I actually fell in love with lines," he says.

Last summer he had the opportunity to work on a refit of a Sidney Herreshoff designed double-ended sloop while working at Taylor & Snediker Yacht Restoration.

David describes yacht interiors as some of the most impeccable pieces of work he has come across and he hopes to have another yacht-fitting opportunity soon.

Installation art

In contrast, some of David's other work conveys a philosophical take on life and leans more towards installation art than furniture design. His background is in the arts and he had in fact just finished graduate school for sculpture before he got into yacht restoration. Two wooden cabins that he built could be described as installation artworks: "I am interested in how life presents itself in terms of modality. Using Dick Proenneke's documentary Alone in the Wilderness as my model, I built a cabin out of slab wood using offcuts from local sawmills. I spent weeks out there to see what it was like. I also built a 'Modular Men's Library.' Collaborating with a friend who worked at a used bookstore, we developed a character that was the 'perfect man'.

She selected a collection of books that defined that character, with the tongue in cheek idea that one could put a young man in there and, after reading everything, he would come out as a fully functional man.

The piece explored the nature of 'learning through reading' vs. 'experiential learning', as much as it pointed to the type of person I hope to become."

Hand tools

There is something of a hand-tool renaissance going on right now, but this hasn't had a direct influence on David's process. He prefers to match the tool to the project, as he explains: "For a project a while ago, I needed to clean up the large dado on an oversized mitred spline that didn't have enough surface area left to cut safely on a tablesaw. The solution was a beautiful matched pair of Stanley 98 & 99 side rabbet planes. So I wouldn't say the 'hand-tool renaissance' is in my immediate creative process but creative solutions are always a facet of design."

Fitting it all in

David says that he has been fortunate in finding jobs that allow him time to fit in all his other work. At weekends he works as a Sculpture Technician at a local art college where he directs students in proper technique and safe studio practices. However, if he is not needed there, he is able to work on his own projects throughout the weekend.

Furniture making

Although he has never made furniture professionally, David seems to be able to turn his hand to it without too much trouble. This ease stems from his 14 years of woodworking experience. As he explains, the principles of different woodcrafts are the same: "Joints are still joints and things need to fit. I actually discovered a correlation between boats and Windsor-style chairs the other day: the flex in the back of the chair needs to be contained by a round hole, otherwise what we refer to in boat building as 'point loading' occurs. I made the mistake of putting a square tenon into the seat, and the flexing acted as a lever to slightly lift the long grain that was just proud of the carved seat... it's destined to fail eventually but it's a bump in the road."

David has an interesting response to 'failures' such as this in his work. "I find failure inspires me to make more and better crafted objects. Some people will pour themselves into a project trying to get it perfect. Although I also strive for perfection, I have a slightly different outlook as I try not to get bogged down with it. I'll design and fabricate a piece, and if it fails or I mess up, I take it and do it again and better. I have been making small-scale Windsor chair/milking stool hybrids. I am currently on the third iteration and I have yet to call one 'finished'. I learn more from repeated experience than crafting a perfect object; after all, an object is a singular event, I would much rather have the skill set that comes with a rote practice," he says.

Furniture style

As yet, there is no recurring theme in his work. One piece that he is particularly happy with is a loggerhead-inspired end table. "A loggerhead is a post in the stern of a whaleboat that is used to pay out the line that is fixed to the harpoon", he explains. "It's a beautiful shape, with a subtle hourglass figure that diminishes into a long tapered tenon, which is mortised into a step in the boat. The loggerhead is carved from a single log requiring that it season and be worked simultaneously. The result was four bow-tie shaped Dutchmans made out of reclaimed southern yellow pine (Pinus taeda), which really pop out against the spalted maple (Acer saccharum) loggerhead."

Design classic

When asked to nominate a piece of furniture from any period that lives up to being a classic in his eyes, David chose the Shakers' built-in cabinetry. He admires the economy, simplicity and modernity that is synonymous with the Shaker style. "Even their metalwork, some of their woodstove designs are epically modern. There is a great TED lecture by Simon Sinek where he presents the idea that 'people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it'. This rings true with my interest in the Shakers. Religious alignment aside, they lived a lifestyle and crafted in the style in which they lived."

Inspiration and influences

David is inspired by both artists and furniture makers. He says that he has always been more attracted to the processes used by those who make the objects rather than just the finished pieces. "Robert Gober is one sculptor who has always interested me; he crafts every aspect of his work. He'll go to the trouble of individually placing hairs on a hyper-realistic cast wax leg, or recasting a plastic lawn chair. It is as much about owning the aesthetics of an object as it is a dutiful commitment to making the work."

He admires furniture maker Thos. Moser and David is also interested in sitcom star Nick Offerman's woodwork and included some of his work in his graduate school thesis. "Offerman's acting role in Parks and Recreation and his professional capacity in the shop create a captivating duality between acting and reality", David says.

David also admires the wooden boats built by Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway based in Vineyard Haven. Their work is the focal point of an excellent book by Michael Ruhlman called Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard.

Failure through process is another of his inspirations. He explains that it is not ordinary failure that inspires him, but diverging from a set plan, or what David Pye refers to as 'workmanship of risk' in his book The Nature & Art of Workmanship. "I find myself driven by error, the empirical evidence that I've learned something new. Through the process, minute tool marks are left before they are removed by a scraper. I try to save those in the secondary areas of a piece. If you turn over an end table I've made, you'll see scrub plane marks and other evidence of its making; I feel this enriches the object."


The last tool he purchased was a Collins and Co Legitimus lipped adze. "It's a beautiful piece of steel, cast in my old hometown in the late 1800s," he says. "I used it to shape the deadwood of a 27-foot sloop, a 'Quincy Adams 17' designed by Fred Goeller." The tools he can't do without include a No.3 hard pencil, an old Stanley No.3 and his eyes!

Crossover techniques

Boat building involves several techniques that are specific to the craft, but these skills can cross over into David's art and furniture work, and vice versa. "There are definitely cross-disciplinary benefits, and it goes both ways sometimes. A year ago I built a banjo from scratch, mitring the basswood (Tilia americana) pot in six separate pieces with black walnut (Juglans nigra) splines that would become a visible detail on the outside of the banjo pot once it had been turned down on the lathe. It took a bit of layout but became a really great exercise for laying out mizzenmast wedges this past summer on a boat. Mast wedges are essentially a tapered coopered barrel that has very precise interior and exterior dimensions."


David displays his work at exhibitions. His last solo exhibition was at the Real Art Ways art centre in Hartford, where his work was selected by a juried panel. He has also curated a number of shows, which he says presents an interesting change from artist to curator: "Conceptually linking other artists' work within the context of an exhibition creates a new dialogue, which continues the creative process. Creativity does not exist in a vacuum." We'll definitely be keeping our eye on this artist to see what he comes up with next!

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

Feature Mondays , David Sinaguglia

"Error reading XSLT file: cwsTerminology.xsltcwsTerminology.xslt

Contact Details:

Email: dsinaguglia@gmail.com