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Daring Design

Spring 2014 | By Dan Grossman. Photo by Tim Fuller.

Detail from associate professor Laura Drake’s Pierced Chair, part of the Fearless Furniture exhibition at the Indiana State Museum.

Fearless Furniture runs through May 27, 2014 at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St. Indianapolis, IN. (317) 232-1637 Regular admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $5.50 for children.

Work on display in Fearless Furniture by furniture makers affiliated with Purdue Liberal Arts:

Outer Chair
Outer Chair
by Alex Dorfman, Indianapolis, IN (BA 2012, industrial and interior design)

Inner Mongolian Cabinet
Pierced Chair
 (above) and Inner Mongolian Cabinet by Laura Drake, West Lafayette, IN (associate professor, industrial design)

Vortex Table
Vortex Table
by Robert Sibley, Carmel, IN (MFA student, industrial design)

Not pictured:
Aero by Jeffrey Fleming, Chagrin Falls, OH (senior, industrial design)
Ava Coffee Table and Star Chair by Glen Fuller, Indianapolis, IN (MA 1980, fine arts)

At the Fearless Furniture exhibition currently on display at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, you’ll find works where art and design collide in startling ways. The pieces on display in this invitational and juried exhibition range from traditional studio furniture to cutting edge chairs and tables that might not look out of place on the Starship Enterprise. While their design influences vary widely, all of the artists in the exhibition share a connection to Indiana—and seven of the 24 pieces were designed and created by College of Liberal Arts faculty, students, and alumni. 

Alumnus Alex Dorfman acknowledges Danish design with the minimalist aesthetic of his work, Outer Chair. The designer, based in Indianapolis, graduated in 2012 with a BA in industrial design and a minor in furniture design.

And Danish design is not the only style seen in the exhibition. Laura Drake, associate professor of industrial design in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts, explained that one of her submissions was influenced by visiting scholar Haiyan Duan from Inner Mongolia.

“When she came, in our first meeting I said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’” says Drake about meeting Duan. “She wanted to make cabinets inspired by Inner Mongolia.” As a result, Drake herself became interested in Far Eastern design. “I studied Inner Mongolian cabinetry slavishly,” she says. In the end, her traditional-looking Inner Mongolian Cabinet also employed a modern process available in the industrial design program at Purdue: its ornamentation was laser cut.

Among the courses Drake teaches is a master’s level class in furniture design, but she also teaches an advanced course on the materials and processes used by designers—and the benefits and limitations of those materials. One of her former students in that class, master’s candidate Robert Sibley, also has a piece in Fearless Furniture.

Sibley found the technical expertise he gained in the industrial design program crucial to the realization of his Vortex Table. He used computer numerical control (CNC), which he learned about in class, to guide the router used to cut the designs into the interlocking stretches of birch wood he used to make the table. A CNC router allows a designer to create a pattern using computer-aided design, which then guides the router for seamless production of the piece. The original idea for the table stand, however, came from seeing children playing games with one another.

“I believe the MFA program helped in terms of building critical skills and confidence,” he says. “In many ways it is like the first degree black belt. You are considered skilled in what you practice; however, you know there is still so much out there to learn—and that is what drives me.”



Why not let us see associate professor Laura Drake and her students' work by posting photos? It would be an easy way to show off their work...then you could have a section with links to past stories. These stories and accompanying photos could be a nice archive and source of inspiration for future students and workshops (e.g. guitar building).

Bob Navill

From the editor

Thanks for an excellent suggestion. We are in the process of increasing our use of multimedia here at THiNK, including photos and video, so we hope to incorporate more of both in the stories we publish. As you note, these visual aids are helpful in understanding the work of CLA students and faculty.

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