Asquith, Saskatchewan furniture artist Arthur Perlett on curves, working in a converted chicken barn and his love for the Art Deco movement.
Q & A with Arthur Perlett
How long have you been building furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I mostly build commissioned work, so it varies from job to job. I seem to be mostly influenced by the Art Deco movement.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
I’d likely be a silversmith.
In order, what are the most important items in your shop apron?
Pencil, tape measure.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Power tools. I make my living from my woodworking. Time is of the essence.
Solid wood or veneer?
I work equally in each; the job dictates the correct materials.
Figured wood or straight grain?
The job usually dictates this for me as well. Although I’m a big proponent of letting the final form of the piece shine, figured wood is usually not needed.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
I’m drawn to curves, I think it’s only natural to be.
Chair and Ottoman
Built for one of his best patrons, this walnut, aluminum inlay and upholstery chair and ottoman are for a movie watching room. It fits in nicely with the rest of the furniture in the room, much of which Perlett built.
Art Deco Desk
Perlett built this desk for a local businessman. It’s made of walnut and cherry, with aluminum inlay.
Quotes from Arthur Perlett
My studio is a retired Canadian Legion Hall, built shortly after World War II. It’s a 1200 sq. ft. concrete block building in Asquith, a bedroom community 20 minutes west of the city of Saskatoon.
I’m not much of an early morning guy. I tend to arrive at the studio mid-morning and work, generally, until around six. If it’s summer time and the weather is conducive, you are more likely to find me in a canoe paddling down a river. When I am at work I prefer to be building several different pieces at once. It keeps my day interesting.
My first studio was in the loft of a converted chicken barn that I had moved onto my property. It made life interesting when I had to load materials in and finished product out. It also had a definite aroma when the humidity was high. Subsequent studios included a converted utility room above the Arctic Circle in the community of Inuvik, a converted abattoir on 160 acres of lakefront property in southern Saskatchewan, and a five year stint in a leased shop in the trendy Broadway district of Saskatoon.
I draw most of my inspiration from the industrial design of the first half of the 20th century. Architecture, automotive design, household appliances. The Art Deco movement figures prominently in my work. I love the balance of curves and hard edges.
My design advice would be to glean influences and design aesthetic from many sources, then draw from that for your own style. There’s more inspiration available out there than Krenov and Maloof, for example.
I like to have a mixture of spec work and commission work. Most of my studio time is spent on commission work, which I enjoy.
Over the last 5–10 years, my commissions have become larger, more interesting and also more lucrative. I think this a natural progression in any artist’s career.
I’ve been involved with the Emma International Woodworking collaboration since its inception in 1996 and currently sit on its organization committee. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with and alongside hundreds of the most prominent and influential makers from all over the globe and in all media.
Advancements in tools and materials will form the greatest changes in studio furniture over the next 50 years. The human hand will never be removed from the process but what those hands will be doing is going to change and evolve.
The most fulfilling part of building studio furniture is having the ability to construct a three-dimensional, tangible object that I plucked from my thought processes, and get paid to do so. How many people go through their entire lives and never get to experience that in some form? I get paid to turn my dreams into reality.
I know that during my working life I’ll only have the opportunity to create a fraction of the objects I hope to, and explore only a portion of the ideas I have.
Custom furniture has always been a hard sell. There is only a small group that can afford it, can appreciate it and know that it is an option. I’m lucky that I have been able to tap into that small market for my entire career. I’ve done it through wholesale methods via furniture outlets, through art galleries and directly to the customer. Reaching that market was, and continues to be, the most difficult part of my business.
I still get excited and thrilled about each new piece and still feel like I chose the right career. I guess that says it all.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.