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‘Fly by night’ artist wows at Boston show

Furniture maker Jenna Goldberg recently had her second solo exhibition, which ran through July 16, at Boston's Gallery NAGA. Her cabinets, tables and vanities are recognized for a combination of craftsmanship, carving and painting. Her six-week show, "Wallflower," was three years in the making and coincidentally coincided with the annual Furniture Society conference held across the Charles River at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Painted and carved basswood with salvaged gum wood for Goldberg's "Lily Pond Cabinet." The interior is handprinted.

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"It is Jenna's second solo exhibition with us and the work is painted first, then carved, which is unique in the fact that she has to go with it, so all of the outside of the furniture is painted and then carved very intricately," says Meg White, a director at Gallery NAGA. "And then on the inside she has created her screens so she is doing some screen printing, some painting, I believe some stenciling, so the exterior and interior, every surface is decorated. I don't think we've ever seen so much decoration and carving - it's very daring work."

Twenty pieces composed "Wallflower," which the studio furniture maker described as "an astounding amount of work." Much of the inspiration came from traditional Japanese art.

"The new work of Jenna's feels very Japanese to us and to Jenna; a little bit like the textile pattern of kimonos and obis [colorful sashes] that you see in the Japanese tradition," White says. "Everything is so graphic and exuberant."

"It's kind of like, How much stuff can I mash into one piece?," Goldberg says. "Some of it is from Japanese textiles, kimonos, prints, wallpaper; it comes from all over the place."

Goldberg's "Asterisk Cabinet" measures 75" x 49" x 17" and displays the combination of her furniture making, carving and painting talents.

Asked if she considered herself a furniture maker, carver or painter, Goldberg had this response.

"I would say furniture is the last of those, it is the least interesting part of the process for me; to me, it is like stretching a canvas. The furniture is built to do the services. I really enjoy doing the surfaces than any other part of the process. I think that is my strength.

"I do a lot of silk screening on the inside of the cabinets; I've been enjoying that process a lot, for lack of a better word, decorating. The decorating is much on the outside with the carving, so they are two different forms or styles working together, so I don't consider one more important than the other. They have to work together or it just doesn't work."

Goldberg graduated in 1994 from the Rhode Island School of Design. In the Gallery NAGA catalog for the exhibition, Deborah Weisgall, who has written extensively about the arts for The New York Times, wrote an essay about Goldberg. What follows is a small section from her writing.

"For Goldberg, a piece of furniture is a ground for decoration. Pattern swarms over her work. She keeps the forms of her pieces simple, though occasionally she'll be seduced by a curve as extravagant as the case of a grand piano or the skirt of a ball gown. Sometimes she sets decorated panels within a grid of boards, as if the grid could restrain her insatiable appetite for line and color."

"I fly by night," says Goldberg. "I'll have a cabinet and it is down to the bare wood and it is time to decide what is going to happen and, of course, you are starting with nothing, so anything is possible. The process is usually that I stare at it for two days and then I'm like, 'All right, I guess I'll start with some yellow.' And then the yellow goes on and then I don't like the yellow so the orange goes on; so it's very intuitive. I have some ideas and I do some sketches and I work with my own drawings. Sometimes I just feel like I am a wallpaper designer working with furniture. I'm really attracted to repeat patterns and things like that."


Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116. Tel: 617-267-9060.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.

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