Woodworking Awards - Winter 2022 - are closed for entries

The Most Influential Woodworkers in the History of Woodworking

Woodworking is an ancient art form that has been around for centuries. Over the years, there have been many woodworkers who have left their mark on the industry, and today we are going to take a look at some of the most influential ones.

Thomas Chippendale


Chippendale was one of the first woodworkers to bring a sense of luxury to woodworking. He elevated woodworking from a craft to an art form, and his designs are still popular today. 

Thomas Chippendale was born in 1718 in London, England. He apprenticed with a cabinetmaker at the age of 14, and eventually opened his own workshop in 1754. His designs were very popular, and he even published a book of designs entitled The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director. He is still well-known today, and he is credited with being one of the most important woodworkers in history.

William Sheraton


Sheraton was a furniture maker and writer who believed that well-made furniture could be affordable. He aimed to make fine furniture available to everyone, not just the wealthy elite as it had been in the past. 

William Sheraton was born in 1751 in England, and he worked as a cabinetmaker before moving on to writing about furniture design and making. In 1788, he published The Cabinet Dictionary; a guide book for proceedings of a cabinet makers guild at the time. His designs were made accessible to anyone with an interest by breaking down his designs into simple steps intended for amateurs. Sheraton's work is known for being very delicate looking compared to other designers from his era.

Gustav Stickley


Stickley was a furniture maker and designer who championed the Arts and Crafts movement. He made use of natural materials, and believed in simplifying furniture design to its most essential form.

Gustav Stickley was born in 1858 in Minnesota. In 1896, he founded "The Craftsman Workshops" with his brother Charles. Together, they focused on using only high-quality materials such as maple and walnut, instead of more common but cheaper woods like pine or mahogany. They simplified their designs by focusing more on functionality than ornamentation or luxury. His company grew exponentially during the early 20th century, becoming one of the largest furniture makers in America at the time (second only to Mitchell Company).

George Nakashima


Nakashima was a Japanese-American woodworker who designed furniture using natural woods that often incorporated decorative elements of his past. He believed that woodworking was an art form, not just a career or craft. 

George Nakashima was born in 1905 in Pennsylvania, but spent most of his childhood years in Japan (he moved back to the US at the age of 15). He learned how to make furniture at 13 years old, and after high school he attended college before moving back to Japan where he apprenticed with master carpenters for 7 years. After WWII broke out, Nakashima returned to America where he raised his family and began teaching classes (he got tired of being asked how he cut the perfect dovetail, so he decided to teach others). In 1974, Nakashima was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects.

Sam Maloof


Maloof was a furniture maker and designer who specialized in building innovative furniture using local materials and his own designs. Many of his pieces were built using individual strands (instead of boards) of wood which were shaped and used together to make chairs, tables, and other household items. 

Samuel Hale Maloof was born in 1916 in California. Though he started out as a carpenter like many other furniture makers before him, Maloof soon realized that he needed to take his work up a notch if he wanted it to stand out. He began experimenting with different types of wood, and even determining where the best woods came from. This led to him creating several pieces that were featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City during the mid-20th century.

Wendell Castle


Castles was a furniture maker and designer who is best known for his work incorporating paper mache into his designs (which often made some of his pieces quite delicate). He also held many teaching positions and museums and galleries across America and Europe showcased his work (and still do today).

Wendell Castle was born in 1932 in Kansas. After high school he moved to Washington where he studied under Ed Lohr, one of America's most respected furniture makers at the time (Lohr was largely self-taught). He moved to New Haven in 1954 where he worked for A.K. Krouse Studios, and 5 years later he began teaching at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Unfortunately in 1994 his studio burned down due to an electrical fire, but he quickly bounced back with a new facility thanks in part to several generous donors.

James Krenov


Krenov was a furniture maker who worked closely with wood to create beautiful pieces of art. He studied under A.K. Krouse in New Haven, and after returning to America he opened his own school for woodworking which is still open today (and has several alumni who are experts in their respective fields).

James Krenov was born in 1927 in California, but it wasn't until 1995 that he built his first piece of furniture—which ended up being the highlight of his career.  Before becoming a woodworker, he had a successful career as a teacher and writer. His first book was published in 1979, and he went on to publish four more books about woodworking.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh


Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect and designer who drew inspiration from nature to create modernist designs that reflected his interests in both architecture and arts. His work is still widely recognized today, but many of his commissions were left incomplete when he died in France in 1928 at the age of 60.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in 1868 in Glasgow, Scotland where he became a student of Alexander "Greek" Thomson. He opened an independent studio around 1889 when he moved to Glasgow with his wife Margaret Macdonald (whom he met when they were both students). In 1896 the couple earned several awards for their designs which helped them establish a well-known reputation in Europe. Even though much of his work got axed after his death, many of his designs influenced architecture and the arts well into the 20th century.

Bunzo Mikuni


Mikuni was a furniture maker and designer who was often called "the George Nakashima of Japan." He started out as a carpenter like many other woodworkers before him, but he soon turned to designing and building furniture which elevated his career (he even spent time studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1960).

Bunzo Mikuni was born in 1915 in Tokyo. While attending junior high school he started working at a craft shop where he learned how to work with wood. Though he later attended Waseda University, it wasn't until after World War II that Mikuni began focusing on furniture design—which quickly catapulted his career.  He published several articles about his designs during the 1950s, and in 1960 he spent time studying at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Conclusion


All of these woodworkers and their contributions to the craft are well-deserving of recognition. From innovators like Thomas Chippendale and Gustav Stickley, to artists like George Nakashima and Thomas Chippendale, there's no denying that each one deserves a spot on this list. It was difficult narrowing it down to just five names for this article but we hope you enjoyed reading about all these talented individuals!