The Furniture Society is a nonprofit, educational organization founded in 1996.
The Furniture Society is the premier non-profit organization representing, promoting, and connecting furniture makers, designers, collectors, curators, educators and manufacturers from around the world.
Overseen by a dedicated Board of Trustees and an Executive Director, The Furniture Society works to realize its mission through educational programs, publications, exhibitions and exhibition support, recognition of excellence in the field, program partnerships, educational grants, workshop partnerships, and annual conferences. With members from across the United States and Canada, as well as numerous other countries, The Furniture Society represents a broad cross-section of furniture makers, museum and gallery professionals, scholars, journalists, and others involved with the field of furniture.
The mission and vision of The Furniture Society
To advance the art of furniture making by inspiring creativity, promoting excellence and fostering an understanding of this art and its place in society. Our vision is to cultivate a diverse community and conversations around furniture in all its forms.
The goal of The Furniture Society is to sustain relevance for our members and the field. We need to find ways to shape, serve, and impact our community. Therefore, we are working to cultivate a diverse community with broad perspectives. This will facilitate conversations and awareness around furniture and making, positioning craft and design as tools of empowerment. We aim to achieve this by expanding the pipeline for engagement and sharing what our field has to offer.
The History of the Society
Germinating from an idea first discussed in 1995, founder Sarah McCollum presented the concept for an organization that was to become The Furniture Society at the annual American Craft Council show in Baltimore in March, 1996. With strong interest and significant grassroots financial support, a Steering Committee was formed in April 1996 and charged with the tasks of formalizing the Society’s bylaws and applying for 501(c)3 non-profit status. Plans were also established for the first Furniture Society conference, to be held in the summer of 1997.
In May 1996, the newly formed Steering Committee presented the concept of the organization to participants of the Philadelphia Fine Furnishings Show, and the first general members were signed up. One month later, the Society received a grant of $25,000 from an anonymous donor to help establish the organization.
Through the remaining months of 1996, the new organization developed a website and a membership database through the efforts of Stephen Clerico and Craig Nutt — both volunteers and original members. Clerico soon after was hired as the Society’s first employee, and in that capacity, he managed both the website and database until leaving the organization in 2006.
May of 1997 saw the publication of the first Society newsletter, Furniture Matters, edited by Rick Mastelli.
In June 1997 the Steering Committee was dissolved and replaced by the first Board of Trustees. Officers included president Sarah McCollum, vice president Dennis FitzGerald, secretary Brian Gladwell, and treasurer Deborah Levin Daniell.
June 1997 also saw the convocation of the first annual Furniture Society conference, Furniture ’97, held at Purchase College in Purchase, New York. With 350 people in attendance, this conference set the standard and serves as a template for all succeeding conferences. Opening in conjunction with the conference was the first exhibition sponsored by the Furniture Society, Survey of North American Contemporary Furniture, curated by Paul Sasso and shown at the Neuberger Museum of Art on the Purchase campus.
The Furniture Society received its official tax exemption from the IRS, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, in November of 1997. In December of that year, the first official meeting of The Furniture Society Board of Trustees was held at Purchase College. At that meeting, a proposal was accepted to produce a series of books titled Furniture Studio, to be edited by John Kelsey and Rick Mastelli.
The second annual Furniture Society conference convened in San Francisco, at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the CCA) and the Oakland Museum in late June 1998. Titled Furniture ’98: East Meets West, speakers included Aaron Betsky from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Ken Trapp of the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery.
One year later, The Furniture Society mounted its third annual conference, Furniture ’99 — The Circle Unbroken: Continuity and Innovation in Studio Furniture, at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee. The DeWalt tool manufacturing company provided the first major sponsorship of a Society conference. Opening at the conference was the Society’s first juried exhibition, The Circle Unbroken: Continuity and Innovation in Studio Furniture. Jurors included Andrew Glasgow, who 2 years later would become the Society’s first Executive Director.
The Furniture Society has continued to offer annual conferences – in recent years alternating with shorter symposia – that have attracted international participants and high quality presentations. These events have included:
Annual Conferences & Symposia
- 1997 Purchase College — Purchase, NY
- 1998 California College of Arts & Crafts — Oakland, CA
- 1999 Appalachian Center for Crafts — Smithville, TN
- 2000 Sheridan College — Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- 2001 Arizona State University — Tempe, AZ
- 2002 University of Wisconsin — Madison, WI
- 2003 The University of the Arts — Philadelphia, PA
- 2004 Savannah College of Art and Design — Savannah, GA
- 2005 San Diego State University — San Diego, CA 10th
- 2006 Herron School of Art and Design — Indianapolis, IN
- 2007 University of Victoria — Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
- 2008 Purchase College — Purchase, NY
- 2009 Appalachian State University — Boone, NC
- 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge, MA
- 2012 Maine College of Arts — Portland, ME
- 2013 Craft in America Study Center Symposium — Los Angeles, CA
- 2014 Port Townsend School of Woodworking — Port Townsend, WA
- 2015 American Tobacco Historic District Symposium — Durham, NC
- 2016 The University of the Arts — Philadelphia, PA
- 2017 Joint symposium with American Association of Woodturners — Kansas City, MO
- 2018 Dog Patch Studios — San Francisco, CA
- 2019 Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design — Milwaukee, WI
- 2020 POSTPONED CONFERENCE University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, NC
- 2020 Establishment of FS Connects — an online platform for virtual programs and engagement.
By 2015, membership had grown dramatically, scholarships and grants (albeit relatively small) were being offered, another book had been published, and the annual Award of Distinction had become a beacon for the field in honoring “the best of the best.”
In 2016, the Society employed a part-time executive director and relocated its headquarters to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Annual Conference in Philadelphia brought in a bevy of outstanding presenters, including Tyler Hayes (BDDW), Wendell Castle, Michael Hurwitz, Peter Danko, and many others. The 2016 Award of Distinction was presented to: Ned Cooke, Yale University professor of American Decorative Arts and prolific author; and Thomas Hucker, craftsman, and international professor.
During the year, FS was present at various shows across the continent, including International Contemporary Furniture Show (New York, NY), Interior Design Society Fair West (Vancouver, BC), American Crafts Week (national), West Edge Design Fair (Santa Monica, CA), Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Fair (Chicago), and more.
2018 was marked by receiving two important grants, one from the Windgate Foundation, the other from the John & Robyn Horn Foundation. The grants enabled the Society to hire additional staff in the form of an Education Director and start exciting new initiatives, such as a grant program, EFASO, aimed to defray the high cost of shipping typically associated with furniture and larger sculptural objects.
In 2019, the Society worked through staffing transitions and currently operate out of Brooklyn, NY with an Executive Director and Director of Education. We received important support from The John & Robyn Horn Foundation, the Sarah Little Turnbull Foundation, and The Moeller Family Foundation in support of the newly launched Craft For a Greater Good initiative (CGG). Craft For a Greater Good is designed to connect with and serve our annual conference cities through partnerships and impactful projects. This sponsorship allows TFS to create a Local Resident Fellow position to facilitate the CGG program in local iterations. This position will begin in the winter of 2020 and will continue in 2021 in New Orleans.
In 2019, when COVID caused us to postpone our annual conference, the Furniture Society created FS Connects, an online platform for virtual programs and engagement.
FS Connects will provide virtual programming that looks critically at furniture’s history, spotlights members, and demonstrates furniture’s role in building a better future. Through group conversations, online exhibitions, interviews, storytelling, demonstrations, and more, it allows us to amplify our collective experiences, history, knowledge, and skills by providing low-cost opportunities for learning, discourse, engagement and community building.
TFS continues to grow, adapt, and evolve through our programs and expansion of our membership. Please join us!