Skip to main content

2023 Award of Distinction Recipient

Furni­ture Maker. Designer, Educator

The Furni­ture Society is thrilled to announce Michael Puryear as the 2023 recip­i­ent of its coveted Award of Distinc­tion. Michael’s award was presented to him at a luncheon in his honor at the 2023 confer­ence in New Orleans, LA - FS23: Making Spaces: How Place Shapes Produc­tion, Living, and Commu­nity. We hope you were able to join us!

Michael Puryear Headshot

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.

The Award

Michael Puryear Ao D Award

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 71/2”w x 3”d

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.”