31 August – 17 November 2019.
John Makepeace OBE is a distinguished furniture designer and maker. Through a collection of chairs, artist’s prototypes and designs, this exhibition looked at John Makepeace’s inspiration and the very distinctive rationale behind each piece.
One of world’s leading furniture designer–makers, John Makepeace was at the forefront of the British Craft Revival during the 1970s and 1980s and has since continued to create beautifully designed and exquisitely executed pieces that inspire and delight. He modestly describes his career as being ‘an adventure in wood’ and certainly through his designs he has not only explored the formal and functional possibilities offered by this material but also unleashed the expressive potential of many different types of wood.
As an eleven-year old child, Makepeace’s interest in fine furniture was sparked by a visit to the cabinet-making workshop of Hugh Burkett, a follower of the Arts & Crafts Movement. This fascination was then further fuelled by a teenage trip to Copenhagen, where he visited a number of well-known Danish cabinetmakers. Makepeace subsequently served a cabinet-making apprenticeship with Keith Cooper in 1957 and later established his own workshop.
Through his painstakingly crafted pieces he received early professional recognition, which led him to be asked to work as a design consultant to the All India Handicraft Board in 1975. Three years prior to this, he had travelled to America and discussed with Wendell Castle the possibility of setting up a New York-based school for craftsmen. On his return from India, Makepeace decided to search for an appropriate building to establish a similar enterprise in Britain, and in 1976 acquired Parnham House at Beaminster in Dorset. There, he established his own studio and the following year set up his world-renowned school for craftsmen in wood, Parnham College – with ex-alumni including David Linley, Konstantin Grcic and Sean Sutcliffe.
In 1987, Makepeace founded the nearby Hooke Park training centre to research and develop the use of sustainable resources. The German architect Otto Frei designed the training centre’s buildings, which were innovatively constructed of wood thinnings from the surrounding forest. Through Makepeace’s vision, this overlooked natural resource would go on to be used increasingly as an ecologically sustainable material for the making of wooden furniture.
Makepeace’s superlative furniture pieces, though, firmly rooted in the Arts & Crafts tradition are also very much connected to their own time and place, indeed it is this that makes them so emotionally compelling.