Rohlfs chair

I recently went to see the Charles Rohlf’s Furniture exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was my first opportunity to see his furniture in person and I learned much from seeing his work. My first thought was that pictures don’t do justice to how his carving accent his furniture, or the presence created by his negative-space manipulating fretwork. The exhibit featured a broad stroke of Charles’ work, including desk chairs, dining room chairs, rocking chairs, chiffonier, desks, plant stands, settees, trefoil tables, a case clock, log holder, fork and spoon salad servers, and his famous rotating desk.

Charles Rohlfs Portrait

There are many unique things about Charles’ work. For starters, on the surface his furniture does not appear to be from the Arts and Crafts era, however, he is considered one of its great designers because of his “his highly-individualistic, sophisticated design vocabulary as well as his use of quarter sawn white oak fully-expressed joinery and relatively direct approach to forms.” Now I’m not sure what “fully expressed joinery” is; but I can tell you from a furnituremaker’s perspective his work is interesting because he didn’t always employ traditional joinery-this exhibit reflects some of his work that utilized dowel construction and screws.

Charles Rohlfs Book Cover

The joint I found the most interesting in this exhibit was the 3-part mitered joint employed where the three stretchers met in the center of the Trefoil table base. Of particular interest was how Charles reinforced this joint, he used a round block of wood glued (?) to the bottom of the joint. By the way, that reference is a good example of how you can spot the woodworkers at a furniture exhibit. They’ll be the patrons on their hands and knees looking underneath the furniture, as I had to do to spot that round reinforcement block!

Perhaps the neatest trait one can take from Charles Rohlfs is hope. Hope in that Charles did what a lot of weekend woodworkers would like to do. A self taught woodworker and furnituremaker, he won local, national, and international acclaim for his furniture, and competed with the giants of the furniture industry of his day. Not too shappy for a guy who only produced approximately 500 pieces over a ten year career.

The Charles Rohlfs’ exhibit runs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through January 23, 2011 in The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery located on the first floor.

But if you miss the exhibit, there is an excellent accompanying book.