A union of contrasts
by Teddi Barron
Martin hadn't slept much for the previous three or four
nights, looking more like a freshman during finals week
than an assistant professor of art and design. He still
faced a three-hour night drive to deliver his work to
an exhibit in Minnesota. It didn't seem to faze him,
though. He moved around his workshop-studio with the
energy and wonder of a pre-schooler at DisneyWorld.
absolutely love working with my hands. I would shrivel
up and go away if I didn't get to use my hands. That's
what drove me to art," he said.
chose furniture as his medium for expression because
he likes the scale.
personal and easy to relate to," he said. "And
it's important for me to join my ideas and inspirations
with an everyday, usable object. It's much more of a
who heads Iowa State's wood design program, calls himself
a designer-maker. The Custom Furniture Source Book,
however, considers him one of 125 craftsmen who are
"North America's finest furniture makers."
hasn't taken Martin long to land in the upper echelons
of American furniture designers. In 1990, he graduated
from Iowa State with the Janice Peterson Anderson Award,
which honors the Design senior exhibiting the greatest
potential. He earned his M.F.A. in furniture design
with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design in
then, his distinctive chairs, desks, tables and cabinets
have taken residence in galleries and homes across the
One piece -- a club chair of steel and rubber -- is
among 23 in The Furniture Society's juried and invitational
traveling exhibit, "The Right Stuff." Next
month, Martin's work will be part of the show, "New
Furniture Part II: Forged/finessed," at Chicago's
Function+Art Gallery. His award-winning work has appeared
in more than 20 juried national or international shows
and in 16 additional exhibits in the past four years.
It's currently on display at the Octagon Center in Ames.
piece of Martin's furniture is a union of contrasts.
Wood and steel. Concrete and leather. Samurai and shaker.
Classical and organic. Ritual and commonplace. Fantasy
and verity. Art and function.
childhood, I've enjoyed fantasy literature based on
the cultures of the feudal samurai and the medieval
knight," Martin said. "I'm intrigued by their
mythologies, and the battle between good and evil."
joining the faculty at Iowa State in 1999, Martin made
his living as a cabinet and furniture maker in Aspen,
Colo. He also started his own business as a custom furniture
maker. His pieces, which can take up to 200 hours to
make, are priced between $525 for a side table to $6,200
for a desk.
fall, Martin was commissioned to design 14 pieces --
including a lamp and light fixture -- for a new "Woodworker's
Room" at the Hotel Pattee in Perry. The room honors
owner Roberta Ahmanson's father, who was a hobbyist
I designed the pieces, I used simple forms, playing
off the idea of Shaker furniture and the Amana colonies.
But the furniture is still very contemporary,"
also supervised the work of the 10 furniture makers,
including five graduates of Iowa State's wood design
program, who crafted the pieces. All the woods used
-- white oak, maple, walnut, cherry, raisin maple --
are native to Iowa, he said.
is a wood collector. He searches scrap heaps at Iowa
sawmills for unique materials, like pieces of reclaimed
redwood from old wine vats, and rejects, like a board
of ash adorned with a lightning bolt crack. He has had
that board for more than 10 years, waiting for the "absolute
perfect design for it."
a board, he said, "This sap wood is amazing. Many
look at this wood and see cracks and blemishes and knots.
But those are the beautiful parts. They tell a story."
process of transforming scraps of wood and hunks of
metal into fine art is the essence of Martin's work.
"For me, the process of creating is as important,
if not more so, than the finished piece. I have an insatiable
appetite for exploring new materials and techniques,"
red hot steel is spell binding. Hand finishing a beautiful
piece of wood is meditative. I'm fascinated by the process."
not an easy process to teach, however.
kind of 'teenage angst and power tools' at first,"
said Martin, who loves to teach. "I teach them
the techniques to work with materials and tools. They
come with their own design sense and it's my job to
help them realize it, help them find their own voices,"
said he hopes to further develop his own design voice
by studying in Japan.
have an Asian influence that keeps popping up in my
work. It's very unconscious, which I think is interesting,"
culture is so driven by process; everything is ritual.
Maybe that's why my pieces are so diverse, because I'm
fascinated by process. And that's something I try to
instill in students. The process is critical."
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
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