Furniture maker Sharp to discuss his craft in Franklin

Jan 23, 2012, 9:59 a.m.
A card table in Macassar ebony, sapele and sycamore, designed by Alf Sharp. Sharp will speak about his craft at the Williamson County Public Library on Feb. 13, 2012 at 6 p.m. as a part of "Art: Up Close & Personal." Lucinda Hall

— Noted furniture maker Alf Sharp, of Woodbury, will speak about his career path to furniture making and woodworking at the free educational program of the Arts Council of Williamson County (ACWC), "Art: Up Close & Personal," on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 from 6 until 7:30 p.m. at the Williamson County Public Library.

The lecture series is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served. The main branch of the Williamson County Public Library is located at 1314 Columbia Avenue in Franklin. For more information about the event, visit www.artscouncilwc.org or call 615-428-3845.

Sharp began his journey toward furniture making after attending Vanderbilt University Law School and, realizing that "none of the white-collar professions were appealing." Little did he know that a simple remodeling project for his landlord in lieu of rent would lead to the career of a lifetime in woodworking. Even though he had no experience in carpentry, his customer was satisfied, and as one job after another came along, he gravitated toward interior trim and simple cabinetry. He loved making things with his hands and out of wood.

As he began exploring how to make fine furniture, he found very few remaining who could pass on the knowledge and techniques of fine hand woodworking. Since it was almost a lost art, Sharp read books and experimented. He discovered that "perhaps the finest furniture ever built, both in terms of artistic style and technical skill, was created in the 18th century," when power equipment of any sort had not been invented and a piece was made entirely with hand tools. Sharp visited prominent museums and collections and picked the brains of collectors, dealers and scholars in antique furniture.

At the same time, to make a living, Sharp was growing his business in an entirely opposite direction. By 1980, he had a 13,500-square-foot shop, a quarter-million dollars worth of machinery and 25 production employees cranking out fairly low-end furniture. By this time, he rarely touched a piece of wood, and commissions for fine furniture were rare. At the first opportunity, Sharp sold the factory and built a small woodworking shop next to his home in Woodbury. He was determined to "use primarily original period hand tools, large enough to allow a maximum of two assistants."

Since that time, he has concentrated on museum-quality, one-of-a-kind furniture, primarily in the 18th century American style. He also creates 19th and 20th century historical styles and designs and builds pieces that merge traditional values and proportions with contemporary idioms and exotic woods.

Sharp's impressive commissions include dining chairs, mantle pieces, carved Venetian blinds, faux-grained exterior doors, "Jackson" presses and a replica of President George Washington's swiveling mahogany office chair at the Hermitage; a reinterpreted "Jackson" press and an oak bench using "treaty oak" lumber at the Tennessee State Museum; Windsor dining chairs and Baltimore-style painted settees at Travelers Rest; walnut "Gentleman's" chairs, the Speaker of the Senate's podium and Rococo Revival style Supreme Court Justice chairs at the Tennessee State Capitol; and many more pieces in public and private homes and office from Massachusetts to California.

He has captured numerous awards, including the 2008 Cartouche Award of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers in Williamsburg, Va.; a commendation, "State of Tennessee House of Representatives Resolution No. 294" on March 27, 2008; and being named a Fellow of the Emma Collaborative 2010, Saskatoon & Ness Creek, Saskatchewan, Canada.

His work has been featured in the cover article of "Woodshop News" (November, 2006), and the cover of the book, "Studio Furniture - Today's Leading Woodworkers." Publications featuring his work include "Colonial Homes," "Antiques Magazine," "Southern Living," "Architecture of the Old South," "Fine Woodwork," "Woodwork," "Custom Woodworking" and various books.

Sharp has served as an instructor on the "History of Furniture" and "Architectural Detailing" at O'More College of Art and Design in Franklin, the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine.

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