2023 Award of Distinction Recipient
The Furniture Society is thrilled to announce Michael Puryear as the 2023 recipient of its coveted Award of Distinction. Michael’s award will be presented to him at a luncheon in his honor, June 10, at this year’s conference in New Orleans, LA - FS23: Making Spaces: How Place Shapes Production, Living, and Community. We hope you are able to join us and celebrate this extraordinary individual!
The Furniture Society is pleased to announce that Michael Puryear has been named the 2023 Award of Distinction honoree in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the studio furniture arts. Michael is a nationally recognized designer,furniture maker, and educator whose work has been exhibited at The Museum of Art and Design, The Mint Museum and the Peabody Essex, to name a few. His work can be found in many major collections — most recently the Smithsonian Museum of African-American Museum of History & Culture.
“Michael Puryear exemplifies the “ethical maker” of furniture, who has quietly advocated through his own example by producing subtle, elegant furniture for over 40 years. Emblematic of his influence is the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture acquisition of Puryear’s Dan Chair. Made from wood harvested from Monticello and Mt. Vernon, the design drawing upon forms from the West African Dan people, the chair acknowledges the cruel history of slavery while celebrating the contributions of unnamed African American craftsmen in the building of America. Through his work and his example, Michael powerfully expresses pride in his ancestry and speaks to the profound impact of African American makers on American culture.” ‑2023 AoD Jurors
Michael Puryear is a world-renowned, self-taught furniture-maker and unsung master in the field. His work has been published in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft published by the University of North Carolina Press and Furniture With Soul: Master Wood workers and their Craft published by Kodansha.
Flat Iron Coffee Table
Stand Up Desk
Michael Puryear: An Integrated Life by Nancy Hiller — Lost Art Press
Michael Puryear: Documentation in Design and Materials by Seph Rodney — American Craft Council
The award was designed and created by TFS member Fred Rose.
Frame/arch- Lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora) from CSULB Mill, Long Beach California
Base- a Melaleuca paperbark species from La Sierra University, Riverside, California
Mortise gauge- Machined/carved Acrylic
Plates- Engraved Brushed Nickel
12 1/4”h x 7” 1/2”w x 3”d
The base is made of a Melaleuca paperbark species log found in field at La Sierra University, Riverside, California and the arch is made from Lemon-scented gum (Corymbia citriodora) from the campus of California State University at Long Beach, milled originally on the CSULB Mill. The mortise gauge with moving parts is milled from acrylic block. The nameplate is engraved brushed nickel. The top half of the arch is a reference to Michael’s use of arches in his own work combined with the backrest of his Dan chair.
Contributions to the Award of Distinction program enhance The Furniture Society’s Educational Grants offering financial assistance to TFS members for professional development.
We hope you will consider supporting this worthy cause in Michael’s honor!
This year’s award was presented by maker, educator, and dear friend of Michael — Seán Breen
“I am delighted today to introduce to you The Furniture Society Award of Distinction Honouree Michael Puryear.”
“Michael has pursued the life of a furniture maker with an open and warm embrace. He lives right next to his workshop in Shokan in the Hudson Valley, upstate New York and is still engaged with the craft on a daily basis. He lives in close commune with nature and is constantly exploring new techniques and sharing his passion with his students. He stands a bastion to an all but disappearing way of living and working harmoniously together. Michael is an incredible individual and I’m sure everyone here today would agree with me in noting the warmth he brings to any interaction. His authenticity, conscientious nature and accomplishment in our craft make him a joy to be around.”
“Michael was born in 1944 in Washington D.C into a proud family of five boys and two girls. Encouragement from wonderful parents, Martina and Reginald, who I’m sure would be thrilled by his accomplishments, led to Michael actively seeking out knowledge in the many museums of DC. Most notably the Smithsonian which features prominently in his life. The family’s engagement with the outdoors has led to what is a mainstay of Michael’s daily life which is to live and work in close concert with nature. Indeed, they both pursued the form of lives that they wished to follow, and Michael has followed suit in choosing to tread his own path. Today is also a recognition of Martina and Reginald lives.”
“Michael followed a circuitous route into the field of furniture. Studying at Howard University, working at the D.C Library before being drafted during the Vietnam war. Thankfully Michael was stationed in the United States. It doesn’t bare thinking about that we may not be gathered here in Michael’s honour had he been sent to that most senseless of wars. Returning to the library and completing his degree would eventually lead to Michael’s moving to New York and the eventual pursuit of furniture making in the mid-1970s. Indeed, during the tumultuous atmosphere of that era, and the turmoil that many people faced during those difficult years it is a testament to Michael’s character that he has been so successful. Michael determinably pursued the life which he chose. He has done this all in the face of elements of society that would prescribe for him a path to suit their viewpoint. His very presence and ongoing work are a testament in themselves to his achievements and perseverance. Much had improved certainly in the intervening years, but the journey goes on toward a more egalitarian society.”
“So much of our experience of the furniture field today is a product of the immediacy of modern technology, the idea of content creation. Modern makers are blessed to be able to catalogue each experience and piece of work they create and share it immediately with an international audience. Michael, eschewing social media, though in the past few years quite ever present on others, has been creating physical objects that have brought pleasure to many people’s lives for almost five decades… As we speak many individuals who are unaware of us being in this room together are interacting with those creations of Michaels. I think that is quite incredible and indeed his work is part of the very fabric of American society. Much like the work of his forebears in the building of your nation his labour will endure.”
“Michael’s Dan Chair is a seminal piece. Sure to endure and be further recognized as an integral physical object which is representative of the story of the United States of America. It enfranchises many in recognizing of their significant role in the creation of this nation. It’s addition to the Smithsonian collection, so fondly thought of in Michael’s memory, is truly important moment for all of us in furniture.”
“Though less tangible than his furniture, Michael’s work in teaching has undoubtedly had an impact within our field that will be felt for many years to come. Michael has taught across the United States of America and indeed around the world as far as Australia. He carries himself with a humble character and engages with everyone who is willing to learn and listen with a true generosity of spirit. He is an individual who is truly present when he is conversing with you. He will quite cheerily spend precious time with others sharing knowledge or discussing any plethora of topics without so much as a second thought. It would be remiss of me not to mention Sarah Wells, Michael’s wife who departed all too soon in 1998. Michael frequently chats about Sarah with great fondness and her presence is still very much felt in Michael’s daily life. And I’m sure her presence is felt today and were she here she would be immensely proud of the life you have lived Michael.”
“Michael is a good neighbour. I think that’s an oft overlooked aspect of one’s character. When visiting Shokan Michael’s cheerily waves to his neighbours and he know the goings on of the community. Its reflective of his overall outlook and how he has chosen to live his life. I think if more people were to be such good neighbours that world would be a far more loving place.”
“Where many have would have found themselves leaving the workshop Michael continues to actively make and indeed innovate. And what might be next for our Award of Distinction honouree. Well, he has applied for a residency aboard a ship which will enter the artic region and hopefully he will return to Ireland in the near future. Today’s celebration is a waymarker and not a culmination point. It is not any single facet of Michael’s life that has led to today’s recognition but rather a life pursued with passion, a sensitive hand along his self-described ‘seeing with a soft eye’ and his enduring curious nature that has led to him being so thoroughly deserving of the 2023 Award of Distinction Honouree.”
“So it is with great pleasure I would like to present Michael with the 2023 Furniture Society Award of Distinction.”