From the Archives: Garry Knox Bennett still amazes a decade later

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Our late senior writer Brian Caldwell profiled Garry Knox Bennett (“The Amazing Mr. Bennett”) for the January 2006 issue after flying to Oakland, Calif., to spend time with the studio furniture icon. They bonded afterwards watching “Antique Roadshow.”

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In the opening few paragraphs, Caldwell wrote:

“In the world of studio furniture makers, Garry Knox Bennett is truly one-of-a-kind. The word ‘unique” is often overused, but in the case of Bennett, it seems so appropriate. Instead of using drawings, he has the remarkable ability to design furniture in a wildly imaginative head. He builds on the fly, incorporating an array of materials and objects.

“I was once introduced in Berea, Ky., as the Hunter S. Thompson of woodworking,” Bennett said. “Goddamn, I always loved that. I just thought that was terrific. It’s just mouth-wise.”

“At 6’9”, he has an imposing presence, but he turns out to be quite the charming character.”

In another passage, Caldwell paints the portrait of a successful studio furniture maker from another era:

“There are four decisions Bennett has made that he points to as being pivotal in shaping his life. The first was marrying his wife, Sylvia; the second was starting up a very profitable roach clip business in the 1960s; third, buying property in Oakland and exclusive Alameda; and fourth, pounding a 16-penny nail into his “Nail Cabinet.” Yes, the infamous “Nail Cabinet.”

“The cabinet was created for the Contemporary Artisans Gallery in San Francisco and Bennett caused quite a stir by driving a bent nail into the upper door and leaving a few hammer marks on the polished surface.

“Man, that nail cabinet just put me on the map,” he said with a little shake of his head. “It got into some publications that weren’t necessarily craft publications. It was the most sophisticated piece of furniture I have made to date. That was more time then I ever spent on anything.”

“There has been much speculation over the years as to why Bennett pounded the nail into the 1979 piece made of padauk, glass, copper and lamp parts. Many believe it was a repudiation of decades of traditional furniture made by “the woodies.”

Bennett said, “It was premeditated only to the degree that I knew I couldn’t drive that nail in that padauk with it in the cabinet. Well, maybe I should have and split that door out. But that wasn’t quite the intention. It was just something I felt I needed to do.”

We had some leftover quotes for a sidebar, but it wasn’t PG material. So I wrote this introduction:

“Staff writer Brian Caldwell spent a memorable day interviewing Garry Knox Bennett at his home and shop in Oakland, Calif. Unfortunately, not everything Bennett said is printable. But for your enjoyment, here’s what we were able to salvage.”

To read the entire feature, visit www.woodshopnews.com and search for ‘Bennett.’

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.

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