ShowPDX: A Decade of Portland Furniture Design


ShowPDX began as an endeavor that was as much artistic as it was social.

Furniture often recedes into the background of our environment. In a domestic and professional landscape dominated by IKEA furnishings, interactions with the objects that populate our environments can become static and sedate. It takes an encounter with something made by hand, something painstakingly designed, to interrupt this stasis. Taking a meal at a table sawed and stained by hand, drawing up a chair curved to the slope of the back, pulling a book from a shelf with an intriguing angle; through experiences like these, we apprehend a pleasure we didn’t realize we missed.

The exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Craft are intended, in part, to expand the understanding and appreciation of craft in our daily lives. By displaying objects that are familiar, but made in an extraordinary way, nuances are brought to the foreground. In the Museum, we develop a heightened awareness of how things are made, and why they are intriguing.

Furniture is an ideal candidate for this kind of thoughtful study. Museum of Contemporary Craft’s current exhibition, ShowPDX: A Decade of Portland Furniture Design, features beautifully crafted pieces of furniture from local artists. It is a retrospect that draws from Portland’s biennial furniture design competition, ShowPDX, now in its tenth year. Like so many things from Portland, this furniture is made with an uncommon amount of care. References to midcentury modernity are common, but a distinct regional persuasion is visible throughout in artisan leather upholstery, generous, unadulterated wood surfaces, and unusual silhouettes. They are innovative, functional furnishings and undeniable reflections of their makers.

ShowPDX began as an endeavor that was as much artistic as it was social. Designers Jennifer Jako (a PNCA alumna) and Christopher Bleiler of fix studio founded the juried exhibit to celebrate Portland furniture and the people (their friends, old and new) who make it. The exhibit has grown into a forum for collaboration, business promotion, and dialogue within the community and outside it. The caliber of the work is such that, by and large, these furniture makers have loyal customers around the world.

Even with the enormous growth and success of ShowPDX, the motivation for its founding are immediately present to co-founder Jennifer Jako. She recalls a desire to bring the work of her peers before a greater audience and to foster the sharing of ideas. “We were all very isolated within our studios, and there was a conversation that started occurring that we need to expose ourselves and we need to expose this work,” she said in a recent interview with curator Nicole Nathan. So began an exhibit that gives equal emphasis to work and maker.

While the Museum places furniture before a new audience with diverse interests and in a more intricate context, ShowPDX: A Decade of Portland Furniture Design proves a belief held by both organizations: that objects are not merely things to contemplate and enjoy, but the points of connection and conversation that unite a community.

*Join furniture makers from ShowPDX for a discussion on current issues within the field including: the growth of the design and furniture field in Portland, the role of women, and balancing installation work with stand-alone pieces. The discussion will take place Thursday, January 22nd at 6:30PM in the Lab at Museum of Contemporary Craft. More information can be found here.

by Kyle Yoshioka

— Posted on 01/21 at 06:19 PM

Share this story: