Carving Whimsy In Wood Requires Artistic Vigilance

August 25, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

August R. Reichert III tries not to go anywhere without his notebookbecause he never knows when the angle of a building, the curve of anarchitectural detail or the texture and color of a piece of wood will inspire him.

"The ideas are fleeting. It might be months before I go back to them, but I will go back," said Reichert, who transformssome of his rough notebook sketches into furniture that is artistic and functional.

"I remember when I got the idea for the clock," said Reichert, referring to an obelisk-shaped clock made of wood that he lacquered with sand. "It was the middle of the day, and I was in the middle of doing something else. The idea came to me, and I quickly sketched it."

Reichert, a 26-year-old Fallston resident and cabinetmaker by trade, made his debut this month as a furniture artist at the Maryland Gallery East in Havre de Grace. The art gallery is operated by more thana dozen area artists who exhibit their work there.

The furniture exhibit, which showcases five of Reichert's one-of-a-kind pieces, runs through Aug. 31; gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, or by appointment.

Even to the untrained eye, Reichert'spieces make furniture seem more than something to place in the living room where, after a time, objects can become so familiar they are given little attention.

Reichert's art work reflects his imagination, his love of classic architectural lines, and a touch of whimsy.

Take, for example, a piece he calls a "Ladies' Chest of Drawers," which stands 5 feet high and is one of the exhibits at the Gallery East.

Instead of making the piece square, like traditional chests of drawers, Reichert designed it to be tall and thin. He curved the light-colored wood of the maple frame so that from the front it looks likethe shape of a woman's body. He added legs shaped like a woman's to enhance the resemblance.

The sides of the drawers follow the curves of the frame but stand out visually because they are made of a darker, speckled maple called bird's eye maple. The effect is such that when viewed from the front, the darker wood of the drawers creates theimpression of a dress.

To complete the effect of the dress, the knobs on the drawers are designed to resemble buttons, and wood inlay on the top of the chest resembles a collar.

Other art furniture designs include a hall table topped with zebra-striped wood and a cotter pin-shaped stand.

Prices for Reichert's work range from $350 forthe cotter pin stand to $3,500 for the chest of drawers. Reichert said he has sold his art furniture mostly to acquaintances. He hopes the show will enlarge his range of customers.

"There will always be people who say furniture is just furniture," said Reichert. "It's allin the people who look at the work and appreciate it and understand the work that goes into each piece. I'll be happy if I sell a piece as a result of the show, but slightly saddened as well because I feel attached to each piece. It would be lovely if you could create piecesand keep them, but part of being an artist is sharing with other people."

His interest in working with wood began in his teens, recalled Reichert, a 1983 graduate of Fallston High School. He credits his high school shop teacher, David W. Thomas, with teaching him the basics and supporting his interest as a mentor.

"I took woodworking instead of the foreign language you were supposed to take because I like to work with my hands," said Reichert, who now works full time as acabinetmaker for Rock Ridge Wood Works Inc., a firm in which Thomas is a part owner.

By day, Reichert makes cabinets for Rock Ridge Wood Works, in Street. In the evenings, Reichert turns his ideas into furniture at the company's workshop.

"Until you have someone teach you the basics of an art craft, you don't really know anything," Reichert said. "I think (Thomas') influence definitely had an effect on me. He also got me my first job in high school, working part time in acabinet shop."

Thomas, now assistant principal at Harford Technical High School, said that in 13 years as a shop teacher, Reichert wasone of his top students, if not the best.

"I'm really proud of him," said Thomas. "No matter what you showed him, he was always seeking to learn more. That he has not only the woodworking ability but theartistic ability to create is a rare combination. He's far surpassedwhat I can do. He could teach me now."

Reichert said he frequently consults books on architecture, woodworking and art for design ideas as he develops each piece of furniture art.

For example, he borrowed a mathematical formula from an architecture textbook to determine spacing for the whorls and swirls on the base for a mahogany-toppedbench. He conceived the idea for the bench years ago when he found an unusual piece of mahogany, which he purchased and put away until hefound the right design.

"There's no way I'm ever going to learn everything, but I'm going to knock my socks off trying to find the answers to how to do something," said Reichert.

"There are many furniture artists who have attended institutes or colleges, but I haven't had that. Everything I learned, I've done on my own."

For several years, Reichert struggled to choose between creating his art furniture and pursuing his other passion, black and white photography.

"There comes a time when you have two paths you can follow, and you mustchoose," said Reichert. "I've been yearning to do this, and having my hands on wood every day is a must."

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