Last week, GBH's Open Studio with Jared Bowen featured special guest Aspen Golann CF '19, who was recently honored with the John D. Mineck Furniture Fellowship from the Society of Arts + Crafts. This $25,000 award is among the most acclaimed prizes in the furniture field, and is "designed to encourage and support a young-in-career artist with the financial assistance to help them succeed in their journey."
When asked what drew her to furniture making, Aspen says, "I like being able to make something that I can then sit on or stand next to. There's something so incredibly empowering about it, and it's also about making functional work."
But furniture making goes deeper than just beautiful forms for Aspen.
"Once I started learning the how-to of traditional forms, you can't help but fall in love with those shapes. And once you start to fall in love with the shapes, at least for me, the questions become, 'Can I divorce that aesthetic from the time period in which it was popularized? Is it possible to make old-school American furniture without talking about race, and gender, and class equity?' And in my experience, no. Because I think that every aesthetic object projects a series of values. And so for me, once I started seeing the texture of those moral implications, I started playing with them, and then that ended up creating an entire new body of work."
"About half of the people who see my work, if not more, just see what they want to see, which is a well-fabricated piece of 18th century furniture. And the rest of the impact of the piece is only available to people who are interested in engaging with it."
She also shared her experience feeling isolated as a woman in a male-dominated field, and how that led her to craft feminism into her furniture. "I began to notice the relationship of furniture itself and the female domestic experience. That furniture is made to be looked at, it's seen but not heard, it bears weight, it welcomes, it makes the domestic space comfortable. And all of those things started to really tally for me and make me realize that furniture itself was playing out a very similar role that I was expected to as a woman in my field."
Asked about the response to her boundary-pushing work, Aspen says, "About half of the people who see my work, if not more, just see what they want to see, which is a well-fabricated piece of 18th century furniture. And the rest of the impact of the piece is only available to people who are interested in engaging with it."
Aspen also elaborates on her plans for the Mineck Fellowship funds, which includes more deeply exploring Windsor chair construction and teaching forms, commissioning chairmaking tools from marginalized makers, and creating a program to collect tools from retiring makers and redistribute them as scholarships to outsiders in the field.