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Remembering Jere Osgood (1936 – 2023)

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The lines and shaping of the parts were very specific but how we got there was not.”

Jere Osgood in His Studio
Jere Osgood in His Studio

Recol­lec­tions by Ted Blachly
Warner NH 2023

I first met Jere in 1990 at a meeting for the Guild of NH Wood­work­ers. He seemed like a quiet workman and at the time I had no knowl­edge of who he was or his place in the studio furni­ture field. That changed three months later when I saw his Ebony Desk (1989) with its fluted upper section and curving ash legs on a post­card announce­ment from Pritam & Eames….He made THAT!!…I was absolutely stunned. It was and still is one of the most amazing pieces of furni­ture I have ever seen.

Jere Osgood Ebony Desk, 1989
Jere Osgood Ebony Desk, 1989

The Guild formed and we started having monthly meet­ings at differ­ent people’s shops. These usually included a demo and talk by the host. The first one at Jere’s was packed and his presen­ta­tion was so thor­oughly put together. It was some­thing I would continue to appre­ci­ate as I got to know him — his thoroughness.

Fast forward to Jan 1993. Jere called to see if I wanted to help him part time in the shop. I eagerly accepted. The history of our friend­ship and my assist­ing him with his work now spans over thirty years. It was easy and an honor to devote myself to helping him move his work along. I lovingly say I was like a tool he hung on the wall in his shop to use as needed. It was so much more though and I learned a lot.

Nicola Taylor was his other assis­tant and she did primar­ily shaping and sanding of the parts plus some veneer fitting. In the begin­ning I believe I was brought in to help with the joinery fitting as well as learn the hand shaping and sanding. Chairs were under­way so that’s where he started me. And so it went. I would continue work as needed for a few days here and there. As my sensi­tiv­ity and crafts­man­ship devel­oped, the things I did in the shop also expanded.

His wealth of knowl­edge and the details of what he did were vast. He didn’t offer much step by step direc­tion. There is too much to know and I think he knew how to best culti­vate a sensi­tiv­ity in approach. The lines and shaping of the parts, for example, were very specific but how we got there was not. It didn’t matter if you were using a spoke­shave or rasp as long as the end result was where he wanted it to be.

The tone in the shop was relaxed, warm and well lit — natu­rally and with incan­des­cent light­ing. His humor, good nature and focus helped ease me into being around such great­ness. I think looking back there was toler­ance too — his knowing that working at this level was not instan­ta­neous. His drawing table was a place where I could really feel his focus. It was brightly lit and the clas­si­cal music station or maybe a Keith Jarrett CD would be playing at a healthy volume. Approach­ing him with a ques­tion was some­thing I felt I had to do care­fully, not wanting to interrupt.

One of his favorite pieces is the Layton Table. I got to watch that unfold as he was design­ing it. I would be working at my bench and this little mockup, made from pine with a card­board top, was taking form on his side of the shop. He and Nikki would be looking at and talking about it but my place was paying atten­tion to my chair part work. I felt myself wanting to steal glances, drawn like a moth to a flame. He would set it up on his drawing board and I would peer around the corner for a peek. When he would go into the house for lunch then I could have a good look. The asym­me­try of it I believe was some­thing new. When explain­ing it to me he said When you make a table you have a top, then for the legs, you imagine four points at the corners going down to the floor to support it.…but how they get there doesn’t matter”. Inter­est­ing concept in the case of the Layton Table, he just pushed the pedestal off to the side. The table was well balanced and the base would just fall over if the top wasn’t on. So he would hang a cres­cent wrench by a wire off one of the arms to keep the base stand­ing while one was in process.

Jere Osgood Layton Table
Jere Osgood Layton Table

There were a few differ­ent designs and runs of chairs made over my years there. One was a set of three — two in horn­beam and one in curly cherry — with red leather uphol­stered seats. There is a quiet elegance to these but they were extremely complex to make. He was a master of artic­u­lat­ing his designs with sketches, full scale draw­ings and mock ups. Then came the making of jigs and patterns to produce the parts. Then there was the fitting and subtle, but detailed shaping and sanding to blend the parts together. The crest rails were very impor­tant to him and on this set there was a shaped cut out in the center that flowed into the two back supports. All these pieces had to fit in a number of places. He called this stage, with his inim­itable humor, A detail that would make you want to leave the field.”

Ted and Jere
Ted and Jere

One of his words was unflat”, which referred to the shaping or doming of surfaces. It made the furni­ture reflect light differ­ently than flat surfaces and was also friend­lier to the touch.

His furni­ture, tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions, artis­tic vision and impact as a teacher is well docu­mented and worthy of study. He left us with so much from a long life and career.

There is a gem in his 2001 Oral history inter­view done by The Smith­son­ian Archives of Amer­i­can Art where at age 14, he recalls deliv­er­ing a book­case in the winter lashed to his sled — in Staten Island NY, where he grew up — that he had made or remade(?). Anyone I’ve ever met who finds their life’s passion that early surely has a jump on things…..long live Jere Osgood!

Recol­lec­tions by Amy Forsyth

Here is a sketch I did of Jere, in 2013, at his house (also included). As I recall, I did this in person, in his sunny dining room, in the Spring, as he spoke to me of many lovely things. In addi­tion to being grounded in the phys­i­cal realm of weight and gravity and the demands of mate­r­ial, he was also a bit of a mystic. He spoke of out of body expe­ri­ences, and perceiv­ing objects, such as furni­ture, while in motion, and how those imag­ined flights impacted his design process. His love of nature, of the textures of leaves and bark and the shape of the human form can all be perceived in his bril­liant work. He loved music, and I did my best to play the pret­ti­est fiddle tunes I could find for him. He loved a nice scotch, espe­cially when he wasn’t supposed to drink it anymore. His humor, deliv­ered in quiet deadpan, was unex­pect­edly delight­ful. He was one of the guide­posts of my creative life, begin­ning with work­shops and inter­views for arti­cles and growing into a deep friend­ship and a sense of being kindred spirits. How fortu­nate we all have been to have known him.

Recol­lec­tions by Andy Buck

I first became aware of Jere Osgood’s work early in my college years, seeing his furni­ture published in maga­zines and books, at gallery exhi­bi­tions, and in slide presen­ta­tions. I marveled over his use of gentle swelling wooden forms, beau­ti­ful reverse curves, and the subtle flow and inte­gra­tion of elements in his work. These were a consis­tent part of Jere’s design vocab­u­lary. Any expe­ri­enced wood­worker could compre­hend the complex­ity these curves brought to the making of an object, but he made every­thing look so seam­less. Jere’s inno­v­a­tive wood­work­ing tech­niques were legendary, such as tapered lami­na­tion, complex cooper­ing, cutting dove­tails on a radiused edge, making his own hard­ware. Then there were nuanced things like making his own varn-oil finish, and oddball things like cover­ing bent lami­na­tions with an elec­tric blanket to induce the cure of plastic resin glue. I loved all this. Clearly, Jere Osgood was as much an inno­va­tor and inven­tor as he was one of our country’s great­est furni­ture makers. Later, I learned so many things from Jere directly. Concepts that have stuck with me over the years, both as a maker and as a teacher. He stressed the impor­tance of creat­ing hier­ar­chy — but also harmony — between struc­ture and design, and using construc­tion methods that enhance the flow and form of a piece. Jere conceived of furni­ture in archi­tec­tural terms, often talking about using inside and outside space” and think­ing about open and closed forms.” He taught me to look beyond the conceived arche­type of any given piece of furni­ture when trying to discover new ideas, and also, that it is ok for good crafts­man­ship to be invisible.

I first met Jere Osgood in 1995 when he came to teach at Peters Valley Crafts Center. As the studio coor­di­na­tor, I had the oppor­tu­nity to assist his work­shop, and in the process witnessed his wonder­ful demeanor as a teacher. He was a tech­ni­cal master, but did not wear it on his sleeve. And, Jere was not the type of teacher who would tell you what to do. He was not loqua­cious. Instead, he asked ques­tions to learn about each student’s goals. I can recall one time asking advice about a sketch:

Me: Maybe I should make this bigger.”

Jere: That might be good.”

Me: But then again, maybe smaller could be more intimate”

Jere: True, that’s a good point. I can’t wait to see what you do!”

I think when it came to design, Jere really believed that his students could figure out their own answers, and it was impor­tant that they develop their own methods for creative problem-solving.

Over the years, I loved to check in and see what Jere was working on, and I don’t think he minded my frequent phone calls to his home and studio too much. He would share tech­ni­cal details about a piece, maybe the process of making a shell desk, then humbly shift our conver­sa­tion to talking about his cat. Often I would seek his advice about my own work, or talk through chal­lenges I faced as a new profes­sor at RIT, where Jere attended and also taught before leading the legendary furni­ture design program at Boston Univer­sity. Although an icon in our field, Jere was incred­i­bly kind and gener­ous. When I had my first solo exhi­bi­tion, Jere drove all the way from New Hamp­shire to Clark Gallery to attend the opening. What a boost this was when I was just start­ing out! Almost thirty years later, this still blows me away. For every letter of recom­men­da­tion, teach­ing promo­tion, etc., Jere gave me support. When our son was born, Jere sent Sandy and I a beau­ti­ful curly maple baby rattle as a gift. His note said, Here is a fish rattle. Sort of faint to me, but if Atticus raises a finger on his left hand, he hears it!” For all of this, and so much more, I will be forever grate­ful to Jere Osgood.

Recol­lec­tions by Bruce Beeken
Shel­burne, Vermont

Being a student of Jere Osgood has proven to be a life­long under­tak­ing. The first lesson I recall was on listen­ing — how to pay atten­tion to a quiet obser­va­tion or a nearly unde­tectable murmur. Jere could be subtle. It was often after the fact, in a moment of rumi­na­tion, that I got what he said — or meant without saying it. Ulti­mately, Jere stood as an example. It was for listen­ing to one’s own voice, feeling our work and making use of our time.

Recol­lec­tions by Hank Gilpin

We were up at Jere’s a while back, guess­ing 17ish. He was down­siz­ing, finding homes for his lumber. While loading our truck, Jere, whisper thin, wandered over with a cane as assist. He watched us ferry the planks from his barn to the truck saying very little. As we pushed an espe­cially nice piece of blister ash into the bed, he lifted his cane, pointed it at the plank and said, nearly inaudi­bly, That’s a nice one’. And as he turned to walk away, he added one of his inim­itable chuck­les, as if to add more approval……..

Recol­lec­tions by James Shriber

Jere Osgood was a man of few words, a quiet giant really.

Making grand artis­tic and philo­soph­i­cal state­ments were not his thing, making chal­leng­ing and exquis­ite furniture was.

However, one day a small group of us students were having lunch with Jere and express­ing how thrilled we were to be learn­ing bent tapered lami­na­tion and all the other fancy stuff, but really, how were we ever going to make a living? We leaned in close for the answer.

He told us that he was confi­dent that if he found himself in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, I think he said, at the very least he would be able to provide a useful service and make a living.

His humil­ity has stuck with me all these years and proved to be a very useful model in recent years.

Recol­lec­tions by Kristina Madsen

When I was a student at Leeds Design Work­shops, Jere came to the school annu­ally to lecture and demon­strate tech­nique. He didn’t say much, but he told us what we needed to know. In those heady years of the 1970s and 80s, he was an artis­tic and tech­ni­cal force; the consum­mate, and slightly myste­ri­ous, wood­work­ing sage. My admi­ra­tion of Jere never dimin­ished. His imag­i­na­tion was always expan­sive and exploratory, and he had the tech­ni­cal bril­liance to bring his marvelously conceived, and progres­sively more demand­ing forms into 3‑dimensional exis­tence. He set a stan­dard for all to meet.

This leading light has flick­ered, but other lights are ablaze in the scores of furni­ture makers he educated and inspired.

With fond­ness, grat­i­tude, and the highest respect, we bid Jere farewell.

Recol­lec­tions by Michael Hurwitz
Novem­ber 152023

Jere’s influ­ence on me, and the way I work, contin­ues to reveal itself– as Jere did himself– slowly, surely, and methodically.

When he gave our first year, first semes­ter assign­ment to, Make a chair that is 6% above the break­ing point”, I had no idea at the time that it would become a life­long direc­tive for me.

As I recall, at the time that he gave us the assign­ment we were all slightly puzzled. After he (quietly) left the room, we tried to figure out what he might have meant by that. How impor­tant was the speci­ficity of 6%? It seemed clear that he was discour­ag­ing any carved, stack lami­nated response… but beyond that, what did he mean? But what he intended to happen was already at play: we were HAVING A CONVER­SA­TION about what furni­ture could be, and why one would make certain choices to develop a path forward. 

Simply put, I’ve contin­ued trying to meet that elusive objec­tive since the prompt was given to us 47 years ago (with some projects address­ing the chal­lenge more assertively than others). Over the years, I’ve rede­fined the prompt for myself to read: How can I allow the struc­ture to help influ­ence or define the aesthetic, all the while build­ing as lightly as possi­ble? It’s a ques­tion I ask myself frequently– some­times in a search for clarity, some­times to test my own resolve.

Jere was well-known for his quiet, thought­ful, reserved exchanges, and I would argue that they were POWER­FULLY spare. I can say with confi­dence and affec­tion, that no one could be of more help or say more with fewer words than Jere Osgood. I’m grate­ful for the contin­ued oppor­tu­nity to employ his clear-eyed, sure-footed guidance.

Recol­lec­tions by Ned Cooke

Although not a New Englan­der by birth, Jere was a true New England native: even-grained, resilient, not highly figured, and resource­ful. It is so fitting he ended up living and working New Hamp­shire. He taught us all so much about working to high stan­dards without a lot of self-promot­ing fanfare. He lived such a long impact­ful life, but he has scat­tered his prin­ci­ples far and wide. It was an honor to see him teach, visit his shop and talk furni­ture, and share a fond­ness for him with so many in the field. He will be missed but his spirit will remain with us all.

Recol­lec­tions by Richard Newman

My first memory of Jere is of a piece he made for the Objects USA show around 1970 — a verti­cal chest of drawers with curved drawer fronts, made of fiddle back mahogany — I was completely blown away! I would have been just getting going with my own shop, after spend­ing a few years in the wood program at RIT, and working for Wendell Castle as his first full time assis­tant (3 days a week). The piece was lovely, with subtle, restrained lines and form, the wood was killer, but what really impressed me was that it was such a tech­ni­cally sophis­ti­cated carcass piece. We’d all seen lots of cool, inno­v­a­tive sculp­tural and fantasy stuff, but to me a case piece, cabinet making in the old sense of the term, seemed a higher calling.

A few years later Jere turned up to teach at RIT after the depar­ture of Krenov, and then Wendell. I decided to return to finish my degree, this was just too good to pass up. As often happens, Jere turned out to be a very differ­ent person from what I might have expected — he was quiet, almost shy, and was not quick to talk about or call atten­tion to himself. But so intel­li­gent, with a great sense of humor! He was working on a very adven­tur­ous case piece in a small studio RIT had given him in the base­ment. I’d go down there to try to draw him out and get some under­stand­ing of his think­ing and approach. I believe Jere’s influ­ence on me was enor­mous, even as I even­tu­ally took a very differ­ent direc­tion with the style and influ­ences of my work.

For me, Jere stands as one of the greats of his gener­a­tion — for the quality and explo­ration of his work, and maybe more impor­tantly for the field, his generos­ity in educat­ing and mentor­ing so many students and makers.

Thank you Jere, I feel lucky and honored to have known you.

Recol­lec­tions by Rosanne Somerson

Jere always approached his work with the idea leading, and the construc­tion follow­ing. He drew inspi­ra­tion from the natural world, and from anthro­po­mor­phic qual­i­ties the object could present to its user, almost like a dialogue. As a fellow maker, it is hard to explain the unbe­liev­able skill it took to engi­neer his sweep­ing, taper­ing forms, and then to apply them to useful objects that still featured the grain of the wood while chal­leng­ing the furni­ture typol­ogy of their genre. Jere created his own cate­gory in the studio furni­ture move­ment. His work was unique and iden­ti­fi­able — so consis­tent and resolved. As a teacher, he never imposed his ideas on anyone, but delighted from encour­ag­ing others to work in as unique a way as he did. Though his work borders on the obses­sive in its detail and bound­ary-pushing, the result is always a harmo­nious and balanced object, that looks as though it grew into that form, or was just supposed to be that way. Every­thing was part of an holis­tic approach since Jere’s strong imag­i­na­tion coupled with his extra­or­di­nary making skills.

Jere influ­enced gener­a­tions of makers through his objects, his writ­ings, his talks, and his teach­ing. His 3 – 21 finish” became a classic wood finish, and his advance­ments in tapered and coop­ered bending inspired many furni­ture­mak­ers to rethink form and construc­tion possi­bil­i­ties. Jere was so kind, and so willing to encour­age others to do their best work. His wry sense of humor was quietly inserted into his gentle way of speak­ing. For years I sent him wishes on his birth­day, and it always tickled him to be remem­bered. He will be sorely missed.

Recol­lec­tions by Thomas Hucker

Jere Osgood — A short reflection

Of all the teach­ers I have had the priv­i­lege to study with, Jere stands out as the most influ­en­tial and impor­tant. He was a mentor and a true friend, a kind, gener­ous and bril­liant person. A man of few words, but those words he spoke were packed with meaning, well chosen, and ripe with insight. 

Jere was a master poet, an artist whose work at first encounter may appear as quiet and simple but with time and patience would unfold into complex struc­tures, intri­cate thought­ful details, inge­nious inno­va­tions, and subtle provoca­tive solu­tions to diffi­cult prob­lems that were pure bril­liance. This was his work, but they were also all self-portraits. The work was the man, Honest. inven­tive and thoughtful.

I remem­ber talking with Jere one day, He had just finished a very complex and demand­ing piece. He had worked very hard and long on a very diffi­cult three-dimen­sional curving form, quite subtle, one of his desk lids. And I asked Jere Why did you put so much effort into some­thing most people will not even notice” and Jere’s answer was If I had not done this, then they would have noticed”. That state­ment not only changed my work, but it also changed me as a person, it changed how I looked at every­thing. For me this state­ment touches on who Jere was as an artist, as a person. A man I deeply admired and loved. 

Recol­lec­tions by Tim McClelland

Some­times you meet someone who expresses more by what they do not say. This can have the effect of making you listen harder than if they talked a lot. This seems to be a good trait for a teacher. It conserves energy and weeds out the nonsense. Jere Osgood was that kind of quiet force.

Being a young metals student at the Program in Arti­sanry, and his being on my Certifi­cate of Mastery commit­tee made our encoun­ters infre­quent. But our inter­ac­tions were distilled and succinct. After all, he was the guiding hand of the vener­a­ble wood­shop, who’s students’ prowess in their craft could and did teach me. I listened to Jere Osgood closer than any single person at PIA.

At one point, I was working on a big project when Jere happened by. We discussed the finish­ing of hundreds of welded joints that I felt and hoped might have been good enough without any addi­tional work. He quietly suggested I finish them completely. Even though it meant hours and hours of addi­tional work, I did not hesi­tate to finish the welds prop­erly. I am so glad I did.

Even though I was not a top tier talent, he always was encour­ag­ing. I admired Jere’s gentle kind­ness and sly humor. He contin­ues to quietly inspire.

Jere Osgood
Jere Osgood

Recol­lec­tions by Wendy Maruyama

While dear Alphonse taught me the very basics of wood­work­ing at Virginia Common­wealth Univer­sity, he also was respon­si­ble for intro­duc­ing me to Jere Osgood and bring­ing me to Boston University.

With the just-learned basics of wood­work­ing that I crammed into 15 weeks at VCU, Jere helped to demys­tify the basics of carcass construc­tion, which to this day remains as my favorite piece of furni­ture to design and make. It was intim­i­dat­ing at first but Jere’s straight­for­ward approach suddenly just made it very easy to under­stand. I learned so much from him in those 2 short years at BU. Every time I make (or teach someone to make) a tambour I always think of Jere.

Attached is a picture that I took of Jere in 1977 in his work­space as he was working on one of his chairs at Boston Univer­sity. I remem­ber him saying the back leg of his chair was too heavy — so he marked with the pencil how much more he was going to take off: and then he showed me and it was like a mere 1/32”, if even that. #thebeau­ty­of­sub­tlety

Remembering Jere

Recol­lec­tions by Bebe Pritam Johnson
Pritam & Eames
Novem­ber 2023

This photo was taken at the 2002 Furni­ture Society confer­ence in Philadel­phia when Tom Hucker (left) presented the Furni­ture Soci­ety’s Award of Distinc­tion to his mentor, Jere Osgood. Bebe Pritam Johnson was chair of the Awards program that year.

Tom, Jere, & Bebe
Tom, Jere, & Bebe
Jere Osgood with Paul Cezanne
Jere Osgood with Paul Cezanne

Years ago I had an idea for a museum exhi­bi­tion called Connec­tion in which the orga­niz­ing assump­tion was that all artis­tic pursuits have elements in common. The shared ground might be as mundane as prac­tice or as ethe­real as inten­tion. With that idea as a start­ing point, I began to pair arti­sans and artists. The pairing of Jere Osgood with Paul Cézanne came about easily because when I think of Jere Osgood and the far-reach­ing influ­ence of his ideas, the connec­tion to Paul Cézanne is imme­di­ate. Why? Because their quests have much in common. Although sepa­rated in time by nearly a century and their chosen mediums, both Osgood and Cézanne share common artis­tic ground – in their work, they sought to go beyond the appear­ance of things in order to arrive at a truth about the struc­ture of organic form.

Cézanne was obsessed with getting past the appear­ance of objects in order to arrive at what lies beneath their surface — the truth inher­ent in objects. Nothing embod­ies this quest more than his series of still lives with fruit as he sought to capture the inner struc­ture of organic forms in his paint­ings — - the geomet­ric essen­tials of objects.

In his furni­ture, Osgood was striv­ing to attain a feeling famil­iar to us from our expe­ri­ence of nature. He knew there weren’t any straight lines in the organic world – not in the flow of water nor in the move­ment of air currents, not in the growth of trees nor, in fact, in the way we grow. Osgood, the furni­ture maker, wanted to create forms sympa­thetic to what he saw in nature. In order to realize those forms, however, he had to invent systems of construc­tion that allowed him to reassem­ble wood in a manner rela­tive to its growing form. With Osgood, the idea came first, the technology followed.

Our intro­duc­tion to Jere was in the late 1970s when Warren and I visited him in his Boston Univer­sity shop/​office. He listened to our plans to open a store that would focus on hand­made furni­ture. We had no spread­sheets in hand or five year plans in mind or, actu­ally, any retail expe­ri­ence to support our ambi­tion, but he must have been persuaded by our earnest­ness because he set up slides of work of those he thought we should meet, those who would even­tu­ally become central to Pritam & Eames. At the time, Jere’s role as head of the Program in Arti­sanry prevented him from doing his own work but when the first Osgood pieces began to arrive at P&E, we knew we’d made the right deci­sion to hang on during those early lean years typical of any shoestring venture. 

I’m not a shop girl so none of my conver­sa­tions with Jere over our 40-year history centered on tapered lami­na­tions. The Jere I knew was a quiet spoken man with a deli­ciously wry sense of humor laced with insight and intel­li­gence. Yes, Jere was a master of his craft and a great teacher, and a good friend to us. We will always remember him.