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    Laurie Fenlason
    Media Relations Director
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April 2, 2003


New England Craftsmanship to be Celebrated
When Reopened Museum Unveils 11 Newly Commissioned Gallery Benches


Editor's note: Images of the artist-created museum benches are available. Contact Laurie Fenlason at (413) 585-2190 or An online press kit about the Brown Fine Arts Center, which includes the Smith College Museum of Art, can be found at

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- When the Smith College Museum of Art reopens on April 27, after a two-year renovation and expansion, visitors will have the chance to rest on 11 different works of art, each individually created by a distinguished New England artist.

The newly commissioned pieces -- benches in wood, bronze and glass created through a project called "Sit Up & Take Notice!" -- are part of the museum's permanent collection. Unlike most works in the collection, however, they are meant to be touched --indeed, sat upon.

Museum Director and Chief Curator Suzannah Fabing describes the bench project as one of several deliberate efforts to make the newly renovated museum more accessible to the public.
"Visitors will use these works of art every day," Fabing points out, "so this represents a new way in which our collection can foster interaction and participation."

The bench project is also intended to showcase New England's exceptional strength in the field of fine furniture making. According to Curator of Painting and Sculpture Linda Muehlig, "the fact that five of the participating artists live and maintain studios locally is a testament to the wealth of talent and high level of artistry in the Pioneer Valley."

The benches range from the playful bronze "Wild Beast" bench by Judy Kensley McKie, who is known for creating charismatic but functional creatures, to a sleek contemporary bench by Dale Broholm, which features grainy curly ash, leather upholstery and ebony.

Although the benches will be in place as soon as the museum opens, they will also form the basis of a July 2003 special exhibition titled "Sit Up & Take Notice: A Gathering of Artist Benches."

Smith's project takes a cue from the benches unveiled in 1999 at the Yale University Art Gallery and from an earlier program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; but both of these bench projects cast a wider geographic net in terms of the participating artists.

Individual donors underwrote most of the commissions at Smith; in addition, the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the LEF Foundation supported the project with grants, and, through its annual appeal, the Friends of the Smith College Museum of Art underwrote a special bench, in glass, for the museum's lobby.


The Bench Artists

Benches were created by Silas Kopf of Northampton, Mass.; Kristina Madsen of Southampton, Mass.; Judy Kensley McKie of Cambridge, Mass.; Rick Wrigley of Provincetown, Mass.; Rosanne Somerson of Westport, Mass.; Hank Gilpin of Lincoln, R.I.; Mark Del Guidice of Norwood, Mass.; Dale Broholm of Wellesley Hills, Mass.; Wendy Stayman of Conway, Mass.; Jason Berg of Florence, Mass.; and Polly Cassel of Northampton, Mass.

Berg created the sole glass bench, which will greet visitors as they enter the museum's new foyer. Its design features two arcs of thick glass lightly etched with concentric circles in a swirling design, topped with a massive slab of thick glass. Funding for Berg's commission was provided by the Friends of the Smith College Museum of Art.

About the choice of glass, Muehlig explains: "For this prominent location in the museum's new entryway, we wanted a bench that would resonate with the architectural elements and materials of the lobby. Local artist Jason Berg, whose particular specialization is architectural and functional applications of glass, seemed the natural choice for this special Friends bench, which welcomes visitors to the museum."

The other ten benches -- nine made of wood, plus McKie's, made of bronze -- will be used throughout the museum's galleries. Wrigley, one of the foremost studio furniture designers and marquetry artists in America today, created a piece using his trademark specialty: a method that uses wood veneer, ebony, silver and other materials as an ornamental inlay. In the bench for the museum, Wrigley accentuated a horizontal strip of inlay set between two large book-matched bubinga planks. Kopf's bench, "Four Arts," also employs elaborate, tour-de-force applications of marquetry. In his case, the backs of the seats are adorned with images of hands making works of art, using various tools such as brushes, pencils and a camera. Kopf also inserted his own self-portrait in the vignette of a painting in progress, demonstrating that his marquetry skills rival those of a painter in portraying a likeness. Madsen's bench showcases her elaborate carving technique, based on traditional methods used in the South Pacific.

The museum's galleries have expanded significantly as part of a massive two-year renovation that updated Smith's fine arts center. When it reopens, the museum will have been expanded by 35 percent to nearly 60,000 square feet. An entire new floor of light-infused galleries was added during the renovation, as was a gallery dedicated to works of art on paper and many more flexible exhibition areas to showcase smaller collections and special themes.

In addition to the benches, the museum will also feature two artist-designed restrooms for patrons, facilities that intentionally blur the boundaries between form and function as well as between personal and public space.

Led by New York City-based Polshek Partnership Architects, the $35-million renovation and expansion to the newly named Brown Fine Arts Center -- the largest capital project in the college's 122-year history -- has transformed the former art facility's aesthetics and technology. In addition to the museum, the complex houses the college's renowned art department and art library, which reopened in fall 2002.

Following a grand reopening on April 27, the museum will be open every day except Mondays and major holidays. The museum's hours through May 25, 2003, are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. -5 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon-5 p.m. For summer hours, group tours, school tours or general information, call (413) 585-2760. Admission is free. The Brown Fine Arts Center is located at Elm Street and Bedford Terrace.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students drawn from every state and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the country.





"Sit Up & Take Notice! The Bench Project"
Smith College Museum of Art


Jason Berg
Florence, Massachusetts

The Friends of the Smith College Museum of Art funded the bench commission from Jason Berg. Berg, who holds an M.F.A. in Fine Arts in Glass from Rochester Institute of Technology and is president of New England Glass Design in Northampton, Mass., has created glass art objects for many leading studios. Berg specializes in the architectural and functional applications of glass. His works, made of heavy slabs of glass, seek to challenge the common impression that glass is fragile. Berg's bench is the only glass bench in the project. Its design features two arcs of thick glass lightly etched with concentric circles in a swirling design topped with a massive slab of thick glass. It is located in the foyer where it will greet visitors as they enter the museum.


Dale Broholm
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts

Dale Broholm's contemporary furniture designs are represented in both private and public collections across the United States. His expertly crafted work can be seen in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan is a fan of Broholm's bold and timeless designs. Broholm's work has been featured in publications such as American Craft Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. He has been an adjunct faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design since 1999. Broholm blends distinct raw materials such as wood, leather, glass, marble and paper to create furniture that commands attention. His benches are designed with both contour and comfort in mind. Broholm combines intense natural colors, plush supple leather, and elegantly crafted wood to create pieces that are both powerful and graceful. It is the duality of both strength and softness in his work that makes it so inviting.


Polly Cassel
Northampton, Massachusetts

Polly Cassel traditionally works in two ways: either buying old pieces to embellish or creating new works that she carves or gouges to give them an old look. Vibrant colors and organic forms are often employed in her furniture. She has described her approach to her pieces as "characterized by volumetric forms, organic and hard-edge lines and surface embellishment." The Boston Globe has featured her work and she received an "outstanding achievement" award from the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston. Her work has been exhibited in solo and many group shows at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (from which she received the MFA degree in furniture design), the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York and elsewhere.


Mark Del Guidice
Norwood, Massachusetts

Mark Del Guidice stretches the boundaries of studio furniture making. His work mimics primitive sculpture with its multiple layers of meaning. He has shown his work in exhibitions at the Society of American Craftsmen Award Show in Boston and at the Yale University Art Gallery. His work has been featured in many art publications. He recently exhibited a bench called "Oval Box Bench" at the Shaker-inspired show at the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, Mass. His designs are imaginative and clever with vivid colors and expressive shapes. Del Guidice brings many levels of meaning to his work by combining different textures, colors and forms. In his most recent work he has explored the use of his own hieroglyphic vocabulary. These symbols give his work the sense of having many layers of meaning. Rather than furniture, Del Guidice's designs are better defined as functional sculpture.


Hank Gilpin
Lincoln, Rhode Island

Hank Gilpin has been crafting fine art furniture for more than 25 years. His work has been exhibited in many shows, including the "New American Craftsman." He has created benches for the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Fine Woodworking. Gilpin's work is classical, resilient and inviting. Like an architect, he designs his flawless pieces with beauty and function in mind. For Gilpin the design of a bench begins with a plank of cherry, maple, imbuya or satinwood. Then he works with the shape and the natural beauty of the wood to form a piece that has its own unique characteristics. He also creates his uncomplicated designs for comfort and flexibility. He designs many of his benches with two separate planks to give "spring action" to the finished piece. There is an unassuming tranquility to Gilpin's sturdy and traditional designs.


Silas Kopf
Northampton, Massachusetts

Silas Kopf is known throughout the woodworking world for his expertise in creating decorative designs or "paintings" from pieces of wood veneer. His work has been exhibited nationally and is also held in private collections. Most recently Kopf designed the veneer for a grand piano for Steinway & Sons. His techniques include the cutting and assembling of tiny pieces of wood from all over the world. Among them are satinwood, bubinga, ash, rosewood and maple. When the delicate, thin sections of wood are fitted together to create an image, the contrast of the different colors and patterns creates a sense of three-dimensionality. The furniture Kopf designs becomes a canvas for his mosaic artistry. It may take up to several hundred pieces of wood to cover a single square foot. A picture that other artists may produce with a paintbrush, Kopf creates with the intricate composition of small pieces of wood.


Kristina Madsen
Southampton, Massachusetts

Kristina Madsen's work reflects the wood carving traditions she studied in Tasmania and Fiji. She has won numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Craftsman's Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship to study woodcarving in Fiji. Her work is included in several public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Madsen works with such exotic woods as pearwood, imbuya and bubinga. She has a distinctive, pure and elegant style. Her precise detailing reflects the harmonic patterns of nature. Madsen blends the familiar with the unfamiliar to create furniture that is both ethereal and powerful.


Judy Kensley McKie
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Judy Kensley McKie is an award-winning furniture craftsperson. Her unique designs have been exhibited in solo as well as group exhibitions in both the United States and Europe. Currently, her pieces can be seen in several museums and public collections, including the Vice President's Residence in Washington, D.C. McKie's furniture art is easily recognized because of her distinctive use of environmental and animal imagery. She has created benches in the likeness of a baboon, dove, alligator, horse, polar bear and jaguar, in cast bronze, marble and carved woods. McKie brings her exotic creatures to life by exploring the balance between shape and texture. The fluid contours of her designs give her charismatic creatures a sense of vigor, dignity and power; however, she allows each piece to evoke its own primitive, untamed, individual personality. Through her exploration of primal emotions, McKie establishes an organic ritual between viewer and creature. Her piece for the museum is titled "Wild Beast Bench."


Rosanne Somerson
Westport, Massachusetts

Rosanne Somerson is one of the most innovative furniture artisans in America. She has participated in more than 100 shows throughout the United States and Europe. Her designs can be seen in several museum collections, such as the Renwick Collection, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has written numerous articles about her craft and is currently a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Somerson works with a variety of materials, such as granite, leather, bronze, mother-of-pearl and fine woods. Whether her work is shown in outdoor or indoor environments, Somerson creates designs that interact with their space. She uses intense, curvaceous lines to create movement and beauty in her pieces. Somerson also expresses a sense of playful surprise in her designs and adorns her pieces with colorful textiles and objects that appear to sprout from their space. Her pieces evoke a sense of discovery and wonderment.


Wendy Stayman
Conway, Massachusetts

Wendy Stayman has been awarded the National Endowment for the Arts' Visual Artist Fellowship and the Artist in Residence Award, Wendell Castle Workshop, to pursue her career in fine-art woodworking. She has designed furniture for more than 20 years and has worked in more than a dozen museums and galleries as a conservator. Stayman uses elongated lines, both vertically and horizontally, to create her elegant, delicate designs. With their natural and flowing contours her pieces appear to resist gravity. Her work is unobtrusive and quiet. Stayman's designs seek to complement, rather than interfere with, the space around them.


Rick Wrigley
Provincetown, Massachusetts

Rick Wrigley is one of the foremost studio furniture designers and marquetry artists in America today. He has exhibited his craft in numerous museums and galleries across the country, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida. His unique expertise can also be seen in such unusual arenas as the Forty-Four Hearing Room Doors in the State of Connecticut Legislature Office Building and the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan. A recent piece, "The Rick Wrigley Renwick Sideboard," was acquired by the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery. Wrigley reinvents the simple elegance of classical furniture designs by manipulating raw materials such as marble, brass and marquetry woods. In some of his works, Wrigley incorporates symbols into his designs that allow the viewer his or her own interpretations of their meaning. These elements move the definition of his work beyond that of furniture.

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