Unconventional carpentry

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Mark Koons has attempted to construct his piece, "A Simple Chair," 35 times. He has spent more than 2,000 hours building it to portray a specific concept.

His chair is based on the design of a chair used in corporate Austria during the Third Reich.

"It conveys authority and elevates you above the people you are talking to," said Koons, vice president of the Rocky Mountain Fine Woodworking Gallery. "It puts you in the position of giving orders."

For Koons, the chair isn't just about the technique used to build it. It is about the interaction between its 200 pieces and the body posture it supports.

"The chair is for a conversation where there is a desire to see and be seen, in which body language is as important as the words," he said.

The piece is among many in his repertoire of furniture art. Koons, who has been a self-employed woodworker for 25 years, sometimes has trouble using the word "artist" to describe himself.

"I always thought of myself as a craftsman. Now I think of myself as an artist when I cash the check," he said. "That behavior is self perpetuating. If you tell someone they're an artist and give them a check, then you will get them to produce more."

His chair has a price tag of $15,000.

"Why $15,000? Because it's chalk-full of the ineffable thusness of being," Koons joked. "And then you should write that he laughed like a madman."

Koons never was trained as an artist. He defines furniture as art when an observer can visually extract the purpose put into the piece.

"Art is about ideas, and the work itself conveys those ideas in a visual form," he said. "A keen observer should be able to stand back and look and come to an understanding of what ideas the maker was attempting to convey."

Other woodworkers' creations will be part of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council's "Fabric, Furniture and Furnishings" show at the Depot Art Center. Some of those creations include guitars, teapots, wooden vases and inlayed mosaics.

Forty-eight quilts from the Front Range Contemporary Quilters also will hang in the gallery.

Melody Randol, exhibits chairwoman for the Contemporary Quilters, thinks both mediums have organic roots.

"The history of both wood and fabrics are very pragmatic based," Randol said.

Quilts originally were utilitarian in their purpose.

"Women in covered wagons recycled pieces of discarded garments, bits of velvet, ties and flower sacs in interesting ways," Randol said. "There was always an element of craft and creativity even in a fundamental way like furniture, where you take it beyond into a work of art."

The nonprofit organization's 300 members consider fabric their canvas.

"There's really nothing you can't do," Randol said. "Creativity comes from the artist."

All of the pieces in the show are quilts by definition only.

"They are multiple pieces of fabric incorporated by some conventional quilting technique such as pieces, applique or stitchery of some sort," she said. "Everything beyond that is photo transfer and technology, printing on fabric, discharging and surface embellishment."

Most of the quilters handmade their fabrics by hand dying, resist dying, hand painting, using the Shibori method or printing their own fabrics through digital technology.

"Some things don't come to immediate mind when thinking of quilting," Randol said. "You can see the roots of quilting, but our craft goes way beyond what you would see on your grandmother's bed."

Barbara Frey, a member of the Front Range Contemporary Quilters, wants people to understand the dilemma quilting artists face. They are trying to bridge the gap of their craft to show that art quilting is different than conventional quilting.

"It's a new genre with roots in tradition. We have to learn to get away from the language of quilting and talk in the language of artists," Frey said. "It's a huge transition we are all going through."

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