Nov 10 – Dec 16, 2023
2023 concludes with a major solo exhibition by Rhode Island furniture maker, Rosanne Somerson. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with an essay by Michelle Millar Fisher, Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts within the Contemporary Art Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Rosanne Somerson: Fluid/Solid runs from November 10 through December 16. A reception for the artist and the public will be held at the gallery on Friday, November 10 from 5 to 7pm. A walk-through with the artist will take place on Saturday, November 18 at 2pm.
The exhibition is comprised of work that was years in the consideration and making. Together with her trusted team of studio assistants, Somerson’s body of work represents more than just finely crafted furniture. Photography, an early interest of Somerson, plays an integral part in the surface decoration of many of the pieces—the covering on three small benches is custom fabric whose design was taken from her photographs of water. An elegant sideboard made of Macassar ebony and pearwood are front faced with leather whose figuration is from Somerson’s own photography as well.
In the accompanying essay by Michelle Millar Fisher, she describes the integration of Somerson’s early photographic endeavors with the furniture forms. “Inspired by forms in nature and in some instances employing her first medium of photography – of water ripples, waves, and reflections – she has built a new body of work that is as beautiful as it is assured. 1 A low coffee table with six leaf shapes spanning out across its surface is finished in copper. Benches are covered in custom-designed and woven fabric. Open one of the drawers of the hanging wall vanity with a mirror and you’ll find custom printed leather in their bottoms. An imaginative mail cabinet for an entryway invites care, play, and exquisite design into the everyday.”
Fisher continues, “Each conveys the method that Somerson once described as producing what she deems her best work: ideas that “come from who knows where, and I make them and they work.” 2 In the precision and virtuosity of medium, finish, and form, it is evident that even if her ideas are not overworked, they rest upon deep knowledge of precedent. This is, after all, an artist who grew up visiting Winterthur and then worked in close community with the phenomenal museum collection at RISD, home to rich holdings of furniture that spans centuries.”
The resulting body of work is a soulful distillation of years of looking at and thinking about the contemporary furniture movement and Somerson’s place in it is firmly rooted.
1 Photography was the medium to which she applied to school. She first began working in a darkroom as a teenager under the tutelage of one of her older brothers who, by the time she was in high school, was traveling with Junior Wells and Muddy Waters and B. B. King as well as photographing Woodstock. She then went on to rural Denmark for a year, tempted by an advert in the back of a New Yorker, before finding the RISD woodshop during a winter session and her lifetime mentor, the renowned Danish woodworker Tage Frid.
2 See Oral History Interview with Rosanne Somerson, Smithsonian Institution.