About Brian Rayner

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I exhibited and sold my work at Eastern Market in Washington D.C. for 22 years. Eastern Market, one of the oldest running markets and that history is so alive. To participate in commerce like that holds a real excitement for me. Over time I sold numerous pieces of furniture to people on Capitol Hill. My work was eventually seen in the prestigious annual Capitol Hill House and Garden Tour. People would come to the market after the tour and place their orders.

 

“I love the mystique that the marketplace holds, the organic commerce of one-to-one communication.”

I call the style I’ve created “neo-Danish”.

It’s combining an Arts and Crafts sense with a more modern style of 40s and 50s furniture that came out of WWII. I really enjoy simple lines, even Shaker to a certain degree.

 

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b-n-b-table-detaildiamondThe use of inlay

as a way to frame or enhance a piece of wood is a signature of mine. It gives the viewer a sense that this is unique. It draws attention to the furniture.

I’m using lapis, turquoise, or malachite as accent pieces.

People come to me because they are looking for something more in tune with their lifestyle. Working as an artist and a craftsman, I am able to custom design pieces for them on a scale appropriate to their needs.

People also appreciate my choice of woods – combining walnut and cherry or walnut and maple as a way to enhance both species. I’ve used yellow heart and purple heart together. I really enjoy the surprises that book facing highly figured wood can bring.

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IMG_0378Walnut and cherry and the older maple woods are my favorite woods to work. They tend to be the most vibrant. The reddish orange and the dark rich chocolate brown that walnut brings are easy on my eyes.

With the sculptured pieces, like the Hobbit Chair, I use wood that comes off the forest floor. I see beauty in wood that’s in a state of degradation, further along towards decomposition. These findings and the pieces they evolve into, embody the cycles of nature we have the honor to participate in. Some maple I’ve used recently had been hit by lightening and it has characteristics that you wouldn’t expect to see – coupled with unmarred wood it’s really striking. Here I’ll also use small amounts of precious stone inlay to enhance the contrast. Wood from the forest floor combined with mineral elements is a gorgeous experience.

 

diamondSustainably Harvested Wood

My main source of lumber is a wonderful elder gentleman in Shenandoah County of Virginia. Ralph is a strapping 75 year old who inherited some beautiful land from his father. He used to work for the forest service, and cuts his own wood in a very sustainable way.

What sets his lumber apart is his respect for the trees as well as the process. Ralph mills, dries, stacks and restacks his wood according to the signs of the moon. He loves to tell stories of how he gardens, farms and lumbers “by the signs”. I can say without exaggeration, because of the attention he brings to his lumber, the difference in quality is palpable. There is an essence that can only be felt when you hold his wood or are in its presence. He’s got every appellation of hardwood and softwood out there. Osage orange, hackberry – unusual woods in just about every combination you could imagine.

It’s incredible to go to his place. Ralph will tell me stories about the living tree and his memories of that species. He knows when he cut it. His relationship with his materials is not unusual for 50 years ago. It harkens back to a different era when there was a more interpersonal relationship between tree and craftsman, craftsman and purchaser. It’s a nice feeling to be in that circle.

 

 

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apoth_detail2diamondCan you describe the process of making a piece of furniture?

I like having the wood dictate the dimensions, and which wood will be dominant in the piece. I like to flip it around – if cherry is predominate in the face, walnut will be predominate in the legs and the skirting. This embodies the notion of duality. It’s a way for me as an artist to tell the tale of duality, yin-yang, each enhances the other.

This duality can be evident in a single piece of wood. For instance cherry sometimes has sapwood involved – the lighter part. The white wood right next to the dark cherry heartwood gives you an experience of the tree you aren’t allowed in commercial furniture where that type of board would be thought of as second rate. Cherry is more than this sterile heartwood. It has knots, it has sapwood, and it brings dynamic life to a piece of furniture.

diamondWho are your influences?

Certainly Charles Rennie Mackintosh. As a precursor to the Art Nouveau movement, his style greatly influenced design of the 1900’s. I also admire Shaker furniture and turn of the century lesser known names like Henry van de Velde, a Belgian, and the Spaniard, Gaudi, who utilized organic forms.

Nakashima has a strong influence on my creative process as well as relationship with my work. I can never read his book Soul of a Tree enough. The spirit and energy the wood brings to the furniture is imparted by his work and writings. He shares the notion of the tree being sacred, the spirituality of the tree and the importance of it on the planet earth. I love that I am able to leave a legacy in the trees that become objects of art as well as function.

My study of Gandhi has affected my beliefs on right livelihood. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful is incorporated into my work. To design with the challenge of economics of scale, movement, and materials is quite enjoyable.

I traveled quite a bit and have lived in South America so visuals like Machu Picchu, South American ruins from 600 BC, Chimu and Chavin – civilizations which predated Incan – have filled me with such awe and deep respect for the great old age of this earth.

diamondWhat do you hope your furniture does for the observer?

To allow us to connect on a very human level. If it does that at minimum, that’s wonderful. That it goes home with them and gives joy or functionality makes my day. I especially get excited when I hear that a piece of mine inspired people who saw it to have a dialogue with the owner about what a beautiful thing wood can be. They then have a sense of connectedness, not just to each other, but to the natural world.