By Kevin Mahoney
As I made my annual St. Paul Art Crawl pilgrimage last weekend, I came across an exhibit entitled, “What’s Your Function” at Altered Esthetics on Quincy Street. The theme of the show was artistic creations that are designed to exist with a function, rather than solely as art. The pieces were created with an intention to combine both function and beauty, to mix practicality with artwork.
Featuring more than 25 artists, the show included ceramic, jewelry, clothing, and furniture pieces.
Although the entire exhibit was intriguing, the furniture was what caught my eye immediately. One piece was a bronze umbrella splattered with white paint, flipped on its head and dangling from the ceiling on a chain, with candles planted on its tiny now-upright spires, transforming it into a semi-Gothic chandelier. Another remarkable piece, by John Terwilliger, was a simple brown tabletop with tree trunks sketched growing across it, with an arching headboard type pattern scrawled underneath the tree in white.
Furniture can be designed for purely functional reasons, like those rigidly unforgiving schoolroom chairs, and artwork can be created to exist with no single purpose other than aesthetic appreciation. But then there’s a third category, a stylish blend of furniture and art as functional art.
One of the finest woodworking galleries in Minnesota has some remarkable functional artwork. Xylos, on 3020 West 50th Street in Minneapolis, creates and designs many pieces of functional art that can be customized in color, dimension, and wood species.
Mark Laub is one of 12 woodworking artists at the Xylos cooperative gallery who creates pieces of artistic furniture. Mark’s studio is on the banks of the Rum River, his work is well-known for its fluid, nature-inspired design and his use of exotic woods, stained glass, and inlays of silver, abalone, and mother of pearl. His work is currently on display in four galleries in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
By adding pieces of functional art to your home you can create a living space that is in and of itself a mix of style and utility. Functional art avoids furnishing homes that look like radical art lofts, while giving them more flair than an army camp, forming a chic fusion of purpose and charm.