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The follow­ing are notes and thoughts penned to cele­brate 2020/2021 Award of Distinc­tion recip­i­ent, Kristina Madsen.

2020 Award of Distinc­tion Commit­tee letter to The Furni­ture Society Board of Directors

January 52020

Dear Furni­ture Society Board,

It has been a joy and an honor to have served on this year’s jury for the Furni­ture Society’s Award of Distinc­tion. We had many deserv­ing candi­dates for the award who we feel have made signif­i­cant contri­bu­tions to the field in differ­ent ways. Through­out our delib­er­a­tion process, we reflected on how our selec­tion may strengthen the fabric of the Furni­ture Society commu­nity” overall, consid­er­ing how our selec­tion adds value to the award program by diver­si­fy­ing the present roster of award recip­i­ents while also recog­niz­ing an invalu­able member of the Furniture Society.

We have selected Kristina Madsen as our top choice. Kristina is truly an excep­tional furni­ture maker who has made a signif­i­cant impact on the field through her unique way of combin­ing classic Euro­pean cabinet-making tech­niques with tradi­tional Fijian carving to produce furni­ture that truly embod­ies her own style. She first studied under English furni­ture maker David Powell in Mass­a­chu­setts and later in the 1980s, she began incor­po­rat­ing Fijian carving tech­niques that she learned from Fiji carver Makiti Koto, during a Fulbright-spon­sored appren­tice­ship. Over the years, she has demon­strated a remark­able dedi­ca­tion to her craft by forging her own path through her inde­pen­dent prac­tice. Her work can be found in many public and private collec­tions and she has influ­enced other makers. After caring for her mother for many years, she has now gone back to her wood­work­ing practice full-time.

This year, she received three nomi­na­tions – She is noted by her nomi­na­tors for her fine crafts­man­ship and metic­u­lous sense of detail.” One of her nomi­na­tors noted that she often devotes half a year or more to a single work, taking great care of every detail of her designs.

Her piece included in the recent Making a Seat at the Table: Women Trans­form Wood­work­ing, curated by Laura Mays and Deirdre Visser is truly excep­tional and stand out piece within the exhi­bi­tion. We feel it is impor­tant to recog­nize a female maker in the field whose unique aesthetic demon­strates how one can take two very tradi­tional tech­niques, that arguably are hard to master, and still make some­thing that is very much recog­nized by her peers as unmatched and very much her own. In his nomi­na­tion letter, Tom Loeser calls her a national trea­sure,” which we certainly agree!

- Andy Buck, Kathryn Hall, and Craig Nutt


Jenna Gold­berg

I met Kristina Madsen in the summer of 1994. I had just grad­u­ated with my MFA from RISD in Furni­ture Design and I was about to start my resi­dency at Ander­son Ranch Art Center. Kristi­na’s class was only 5 days long but impacted my work for the rest of my career. The tech­nique she learned and adopted in Fiji resonated with my aesthetic. I had been trained as an illus­tra­tor and the possi­bil­ity to draw” with intaglio carving presented a look that was differ­ent from the pack. I took this tech­nique and ran with it. I’m not sure what my 20 year career making furni­ture would have looked like had it not been for Kristina. I am forever grate­ful for her kind­ness, guid­ance and expertise

- Jenna


Beth McLaugh­lin / The Fuller Museum

Kristina Madsen’s master­ful Window Seat holds a special place in my heart. Not only does Kristina hail from Western Mass­a­chu­setts (like me!), but the work repre­sents an impor­tant part of Fuller Craft Museum’s history. It was commis­sioned in 1984 with funds provided by the New Works Grant from the Mass­a­chu­setts Council on Arts and Human­i­ties, a program that ulti­mately led to the museum’s deci­sion to change its mission to contem­po­rary craft. Ever since, Window Seat has been one of the most trea­sured objects in our collection.

Its inclu­sion in the 2020 exhi­bi­tion From Where I Sit: Perma­nent Collec­tion Seating renewed my deep admi­ra­tion for Kristina and her prac­tice. Her exquis­ite atten­tion to detail, master­ful carving, and vener­a­tion of deco­ra­tive arts tradi­tions are just a few reasons why The Furni­ture Society’s Award of Distinc­tion is so well deserved. Congrat­u­la­tions, Kristina!

- Beth


Tom Loeser, 2019 Award of Distinction recipient

A long time ago (early 1980’s?) on a trip with some other wood­work­ers to the East Hampton Mass. area to visit wood­shops, I saw a project in process on Kristina’s bench before I ever met Kristina. There was some­thing very distinc­tive about the parts on her bench. This was before she had trav­elled to Fiji and her work at that point was very much in the Euro­pean style of her train­ing, but there was an order, direct­ness and refine­ment to each of the various still dis-assem­bled parts that exuded a pres­ence and calm­ness. As I’ve been lucky enough to see Kristina’s work evolve and expand over many decades, I still see those same qual­i­ties in all of her work.

An element that I admire in Kristina’s work is the medi­ta­tive aspect of the repet­i­tive actions that are a part of her carving process. It looks like a very appeal­ing way to do wood­work­ing, with elegant chips accu­mu­lat­ing as she carves and a surface that grows more and more layered and complex until the pattern and the surface looks not so simple anymore. Each indi­vid­ual cutting action and mark seems logical and possi­ble, but when the indi­vid­ual marks all come together, there is a coher­ence and an incred­i­bly sophis­ti­cated design vision. 

Kristina’s pieces possess an over­whelm­ing and reward­ing quality and creativ­ity. Her work combines a very high level tradi­tional English cabi­net­mak­ing educa­tion with her own inter­pre­ta­tion of Fijian carving. There is simply nobody else in the world making anything like what comes out of Kristina’s studio. 

She also keeps exper­i­ment­ing and broad­en­ing the scope of her inves­ti­ga­tion. The combi­na­tion of hand carving with layers of marquetry patterns that she cuts through to expose the under­neath layers is mind-bogglingly sophis­ti­cated and gener­ates deli­cious and tactile surfaces. 

I think Kristina has not received the recog­ni­tion she deserves and is some­times a bit below the radar” because her working process is so inten­sive and she produces work at a measured pace and then it often goes straight to a collec­tor. Also she is a quiet and modest person and not a self-promoter, choos­ing instead to let her work do the talking. 

I have hosted her twice as a visit­ing artist, and when she gives her talk and pulls out her tech­ni­cal samples, students are some­what speech­less and can’t believe what they are seeing. It takes her careful expla­na­tions before they realize the full incred­i­ble­ness of what they are looking at. 

She has studied a tradi­tional set of Fijian carving skills and learned it inside out and then taken it to new places and reso­lu­tions that are honorific of the source, but also insanely creative and original. 

- Tom


Tyra Hanson / Director/​The Gallery at Somes Sound

Over the years, I admired Kristina Madsen and her many accom­plish­ments as a carver and furni­ture maker; my offi­cial meeting of Kristina was in 2015 when The Gallery at Somes Sound hosted a show with Pritam & Eames, featur­ing a body of work by furni­ture makers influ­enc­ing the studio furni­ture move­ment in the 1960’s.

Madsen’s piece created exclu­sively for the show, which contin­ues to be avail­able for viewing at The Gallery, is an exquis­ite swing leg table made of bubinga, ebony and gesso. The bubinga, with its incred­i­ble warm hues of caramel and dark choco­late colors, enhance the detailed carving around the edge of the table which is referred to as free­hand intaglio carving, a tech­nique Kristina learned from Fijian master carver Makiti Koto. This contin­u­ous carved design around the top edge of the table is enhanced with ebony inlay along with an appli­ca­tion of gesso in the more deli­cate portions of the pattern. The swing legs at the base is a perfect example of Kristina’s engi­neer­ing capa­bil­i­ties, with its ease of move­ment, swing­ing the legs out to support the leaves on both sides of the table. Both the legs and gate” are also made of bubinga in keeping with the flow and conti­nu­ity of design. This piece is a great example of Kristina’s love for design­ing and build­ing furni­ture, reflect­ing grace­ful lines and elegant propor­tions, bring­ing surfaces to life with deco­ra­tive pattern and texture. 

My congrat­u­la­tions to Kristina Madsen for this Award of Distinc­tion in 2020 – 2021 awarded by the Furni­ture Society. It is an honor to have met Kristina and to display the swing leg table at The Gallery at Somes Sound. 

- Tyra


Pritam & Eames / Johnson
For the better part of three decades Kristina Madsen’s exhi­bi­tions at Pritam & Eames gave us one of the most reward­ing working rela­tion­ships and friend­ships of our gallery years. Hers was a journey from simple, clean forms to the awesome perfec­tion and complex­ity of gem-like patterns she creates in her shallow relief carving. The journey began with the legacy of the craftsman’s way as taught by British master crafts­man, David Powell (founder, Leeds Design Work­shop, East­hamp­ton, MA) with whom Kristina trained from 1975 to 1979. Powell, himself, was a student of the great 20th-century English pathfinder, Edward Barns­ley. Part of the trans­fu­sion of this legacy contin­ued when Powell bequeathed the hand tools he acquired from Barns­ley to Kristina.

Kristina’s command of shallow relief carving came about when she spent a year in Fiji as a Fulbright grantee study­ing under Fijian master carver Makiti Koto in 1991 – 92. There, she assim­i­lated the disci­pline of shallow relief carving, 1/16” to 1/32”-inch deep, and learned the Fijian language as well. Koto has said, that when he goes, the Fijian govern­ment will come looking for Kristina.” 

Under­ly­ing this indi­vid­u­at­ing back­ground is the strength of commit­ment to what­ever is under­taken. A visit to her home in western Mass­a­chu­setts takes you to her wood fired Cham­bers cook stove. As a center of warmth and home cooking, the deli­cious meals she makes are often based on produce, either fresh or preserved, harvested from her plots. Kristina’s manner is quiet, her resolve is her bedrock, and the work that emerges from her work­shop takes its place in the contin­uum of great furniture. 

It’s our plea­sure to share these thoughts about Kristina with The Furni­ture Society commu­nity and to applaud FS’s recog­ni­tion of her achieve­ments with the 2020 – 2021 Award of Distinc­tion, an honor she richly deserves.

- Bebe and Warren Johnson


Laura Mays

I’ve been think­ing more about why Kristina’s profile changed so much over the decades, and it’s almost like she’s being re-discov­ered. I think it is mostly the shift­ing posi­tion of Studio Furni­ture — many makers expressed a kind of sadness and disap­point­ment at the real­iza­tion that only the very wealthy could afford their labor, and have been seeking ways to make work more acces­si­ble to a wider swathe. Which often means makes things more quickly, to make them more cheaply. I think it’s possi­ble that possi­bly we will see, or even are seeing in pandemic and home activ­i­ties (bread baking etc), a sepa­ra­tion of labor from cost, or, put another way, of the labor of craft having a non-mone­tary payback. Kristina’s work emanates an aura of deep concen­tra­tion, skill, immer­sion, even obses­sive­ness that is evidence of flow, medi­ta­tion, even escape from the world around. Time actu­ally isn’t money, as it turns out: it’s all kinds of things.

- Laura


Deirdre Visser

Dear Kristina,

I don’t think I will ever forget the day I got to spend with you at your home and studio out in Western Mass. From driving up the road amidst that perfect late January snow that had fallen the night before, to stew and oatmeal cookies in the warm embrace of your kitchen table, to talking about the history of — and your hopes for — your prac­tice through the after­noon, it was a deli­cious and perfect day. There were so many plea­sures, and perhaps my most profound take away relates to the integrity of your creative prac­tice, the inte­gral rela­tion­ship between the life you’ve made and your work, and the poetic rela­tion­ship between the laundry hanging on the line outside on a crisp January day, and the steady, demand­ing, beau­ti­fully rendered carving you do.

Thank you for sharing that time with me.

With love,



Rosanne Somer­son

Kristina is such a deserv­ing honoree for a Furni­ture Society award. Her work is excep­tional and so is she. Kristina has always faced her projects with a steady inde­pen­dence, taking on both ambi­tious commis­sions and spec­u­la­tive works of a scale and complex­ity that would have thwarted many, but not Kristina. Through­out the many decades I have known her, her work has contin­ued to develop aesthet­i­cally and tech­ni­cally to the point where I stand in awe when expe­ri­enc­ing her pieces. And what’s also truly wonder­ful is her gener­ous nature, her dedi­ca­tion and cama­raderie, and her wonder­ful, lyrical laugh.

I extend my joyful congratulations.

- Rosanne


Edward S. Cooke, Jr. / Charles F. Mont­gomery Profes­sor of Amer­i­can Deco­ra­tive Arts / Direc­tor of Under­grad­u­ate Studies/​Depart­ment of the History of Art / Yale University

Kristina Madsen’s tran­si­tion from descen­dant of the Cotswold-based Gimson-Barns­ley tradi­tion to adoptee of the Moana Oceania-based carving tradi­tion may at first seem odd and unex­pected, but it makes total sense on several levels: skilled and creative use of hand tools, open-ended explo­ration of the foun­da­tions of one’s train­ing, and commit­ment to the prac­tice of quiet wood­work­ing. The common­al­ity has been present through­out the 35 years I have known Kristina. When she received a Fulbright to travel to Fiji to study with Makiti Koto in 1991, she wrote me a serious of insight­ful letters from Fiji in which she described how long she had to sit on her bum watch­ing the men carve, how neither men nor women quite under­stood what she was doing, and how Makiti quietly welcomed her into his family, creat­ing the space and oppor­tu­nity to immerse herself in the local culture and learn the tech­niques and patterns of the Indige­nous carving tradi­tion. David Powell and Makiti, halfway around the globe from each other, both recog­nized Kristi­na’s commit­ment, patience, and under­stand­ing of the long term goals of wood­work­ing. One senses this seren­ity in a visit to her studio, seeing the Powell tool chest and watch­ing Kristina sit on the floor and deftly exper­i­ment with carving patterns. There is a peace­ful simplic­ity that char­ac­ter­izes this rural pursuit, yet the work is strong and power­ful. Kristina is not a self-promoter and has not taught scores of other makers, but her kind and gener­ous spirit and intri­cate work has attracted the respect of all who have come into contact with her. It is so fitting that she receive the Furni­ture Soci­ety’s Award of Distinc­tion for a life­time of impact and inspiration.

- Ned


Andy Buck / RIT / 2020 AoD Juror

Long before I was able to meet Kristina Madsen, I admired her work through images and show announce­ments. At first read, I absolutely loved the sense of propor­tion in her furni­ture and exquis­ite crafts­man­ship, always perfectly balanced and pleas­ing to the eye, created with preci­sion and care. And then the carving….wow, amazing!

After admir­ing her work for years, I finally had a chance to meet Kristina and hear about the incred­i­ble journey she took to Fiji where she learned the carving which so beau­ti­fully adorns her work. To witness the labor inten­sive process of carving and the concen­tra­tion and preci­sion this takes, this is truly mind blowing. I have to say, it is a priv­i­lege to meet someone you admire very much, and find that behind the curtain is also a wonder­ful human being too. Beyond her talent, Kristina is a charm­ing and intel­li­gent person, who is humble, fun, and a dog sled enthu­si­ast! Very cool.

- Andy


Hila Rosen

Dear Kristina — It was an absolute plea­sure to work with you on my jewelry cabinet. Every time I pass by, and espe­cially every time I open one of the extra­or­di­nary doors, and then a drawer, which makes such a smooth and sleek contrast, I am force­fully reminded of the absolute beauty of craft. You took such extra­or­di­nary care with every single detail: the wood carving, of course, but also the fabrics lining the drawers, the thought­ful place­ment of the drawers, how gorgeously every­thing oper­ates. Some drawers are taller. You had to have care­fully consid­ered what a cabinet needs to do and be. Such a perfect work of func­tional art came about because you imag­ined the beauty, consid­ered the neces­si­ties, and always worked to fulfill your vision in the finest way, taking no short­cuts, all of which led you to create this splen­did cabinet. I am always grate­ful. Thank you, 

- Hila


Kathryn Hall / Houston Center for Contem­po­rary Craft / 2020 AoD Juror

Kristi­na’s surface patterns are a delight for the eye. I find myself getting lost in the metic­u­lous and complex details of her carved surfaces. Inspired by botany and Oceanic wood carving amongst other influ­ences, her designs build upon a rich history of pattern while main­tain­ing a time­less rele­vance. It is an honor to recog­nize Kristina for her contri­bu­tions to the field.

- Kathryn


Wendy Maruyama / Past Chair of the AoD Committee

I am beyond thrilled that Kristina Madsen is receiv­ing this honor – having known her for over 30 years now, and I will always remem­ber our long conver­sa­tions about life in rela­tion to being women, and navi­gat­ing one’s paths. Kristina is always the one in our tribe that set the highest bar for wood­work­ing stan­dards and brought a power­ful level of femi­nin­ity into studio furniture. 

- Wendy


Craig Nutt / 2020 AoD Juror

I first encoun­tered Kristina Madsen’s work in person in a national furni­ture invi­ta­tional exhi­bi­tion in Tupelo, Missis­sippi in 1985. I still remem­ber the piece, a deli­cate, yet solid bench with ends resem­bling chair backs. The seat was grooved or beaded with inlaid with white wood lines that seemed to ripple. I asked to look under the bench, and the beau­ti­ful, work­man­like cham­fer­ing of each unseen edge left a lasting impression.

Kristina’s work has a quiet deli­cacy that I am tempted to ascribe to her gender, but I think that would be selling her short. Her work is defined by her strong, personal artis­tic vision – and by the formi­da­ble skills to make that vision seam­less. I admire her work, her dedi­ca­tion to her vision, and congrat­u­late her on this long-overdue honor.

- Craig


Michael P. Moore / Michael Moore Fine Woodworking

This chair was in the 2007 show at the FS confer­ence in Victo­ria B.C.

I was chal­leng­ing myself to learn how to chip carve and immersed myself in this project. (30 days start to finish and 21 days of carving)

It was an homage to the chair Kristina made which is now in the Smith­son­ian. (it is not an exact copy given that I only had a couple of photos to work from) 

I wanted to see how differ­ently people reacted once they found out that the design was not original.

- Michael