New Furniture Exhibit Memorializes Chicago’s Lost Ash Trees

New Furniture Exhibit Memorializes Chicago’s Lost Ash Trees


This weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Stony Island Arts Bank for an excellent furniture exhibition. Stony Island Arts Bank was founded by artist Theaster Gates in 2014 as a multi-functional space for residents on the south side of Chicago. Some parts of the space are programmed, like the library, lounge and bar, and others are spacious galleries for short and long term exhibitions. If are unfamiliar with Gates’ work, it often has community, architecture and urban-planning layered with complex partnerships and civic engagement.

Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago

Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago

In the case of this exhibition, Casey Lurie was teaching Advanced Furniture Making at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I oversee the studio facility, and also teach. Lurie reached out to Gates, who has a sawmill and thousands of board feet of Ash which fell victim to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer in Chicago in recent years. Lurie requested the students utilize some of Gates’ Ash for their class, and Gates obliged, offering to host an exhibition of the work at Stony Island Arts Bank when the projects were complete.

With Julie Yost, the director of Programming at Stony Island Arts Bank, Lurie entitled the exhibition ‘From the Ash’ to memorialize the trees from Chicago’s boulevards and parks. After a prototyping phase, the sculpture and design students fabricated functional and sculptural objects from the Ash. In each piece you can see the effort and hard work of the students, along with Lurie’s patient guidance and knowledge. The objects highlight the creative conceptual rigor and commitment to craft typical of the SAIC student. I’d like to additionally shout out to my staff and student workers who assisted in many of these projects. While all of the projects were strong, here are a few of the highlights:

lounge chair

This lounge by Sabrina Yang combines a lower Ash frame with a bent laminated Ash armrest, Walnut spindles and a woven paper cord seat. The seats can be separated or pushed together like a Danish daybed. The chair sits very comfortably and exhibits an extremely high level of craft.

modular plant stand

Purifi is a product for the home. Through exhaustive research, student Ona Sian discovered that a single plant is capable of scrubbing chemical toxins like Benzene, Formaldehyde and Toluene from a 100 sq. ft room. She designed her plant stand with post to be modular, stackable and arable. Each pod can accommodate 2-4 plants and can stack 4 pods high.

rocking chair

At first glance, this rocking chair appears a descendant of Danish Design, however, the student who designed and fabricated it had Puerto Rico on her mind. Ana Maria Bermudez drew parallels between the Ash tree being colonized by the Emerald Ash Borer and Puerto Rico’s often detrimental colonization first by the Spanish and now the United States. Mecedora is a contemporary take on Spanish Colonial style ubiquitous in Puerto Rico.

coffee table

Jacob Schwartz was enamored by the mass of the 8/4 Ash and aspired to make a physical expression of structure and tectonics. Entitled Framework, the coffee table utilizes blackened Steel and cast Concrete to create a composition of heavy mass and a constructivist CNC plasma cut metal. The execution of this piece was delightfully fastidious, crafted with the precision of an engineer.

anthropomorphic chair

The last piece is fun, but also technically challenging. Yunhee Min wanted to create an unconventional chair with anthropomorphic qualities. She had never made a functioning turned spindle chair but chose to learn all of the techniques necessary to make one. Hers, called Retired Chair, positioned on a tall pedestal, is either relaxing or exhausted depending on how you look at it.

If you’re in the Chicagoland area, I’d recommend checking this exhibition out. All of these pieces are on view at Stony Island Arts Bank through April 7. Admission is free. I’m posting about this and other wood and furniture topics which you can find on my Instagram feed (@sethakeller).



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