Celebrating the First Half Century of a Master Woodworker's Life

Modern Magazine
Monday, 28 April, 2014

Celebrating the first half century

of a master woodworker's life


It is safe to say that David N. Ebner was born to

work in wood. Among his earliest recollections—

as recounted in a new book on his work—are the

hours spent in his father’s workshop, where, by

the age of nine, he had made his own

baseball bat. Beginning in 1964, as

a student at Rochester Institute of

Technology’s School for American

Craftsmen he studied with Wendell Castle

and William Keyser and began to identify

himself as an artist-craftsman.

Not quite fifty years later, Philadelphia’s

Moderne Gallery is mounting a major retrospective

of Ebner’s work. The exhibition,

which opens April 25, includes

more than sixty chests, stools, chairs,

mirrors, desks, benches, and consoles

that, taken together, paint a

portrait of the designer’s craft. Robert

Aibel, the founder of Moderne and a leading expert in

the American studio furniture movement, has represented

Ebner for more than a decade. “He forged a style of his own

from the very beginning and has never allowed himself to

stop evolving,” Aibel writes in his foreword to the lively and

wide-ranging newly published David Ebner: Studio Furniture,

by Nancy N. Schiffer. “It is exciting to present David’s sculptural

furniture as he is constantly developing his own ideas

and styles in fascinating ways, Aibel says.”

Ebner likes to call his designs “antiques of the future.”

Because he often draws on traditional forms but remakes

them in a thoroughly contemporary way, he sees them as

“classical impressions” in which he relies on the forms of

the past but removes the embellishments.

His work, most often in fine hardwoods, melds sculpture

and furniture, art, and craft. It is sometimes graceful

and delicate and sometimes far sturdier and more forceful.

His Twisted Sticks series from the mid-1990s incorporates

naturalistic forms drawn from his observations of the way

honeysuckle vines wrap around themselves. His scallionand

onion-inspired chests and coat racks (he says they are

among his favorites) are at once witty and timeless. His elegant,

highly articulated Sternum series—it includes both

a music stand and a dictionary stand along with tables and

chairs—was inspired by looking at the bones of a duck he

had eaten for dinner. Although he is versatile, his most

recognizable pieces usually stand on improbably slender

splayed legs and have precise joinery.

A dovetailed joint stool he made shortly after settling

in Eastern Long Island (first in Blue Point, then

Brookhaven, and finally Bellport) was selected for the

1975 exhibition Craft Multiples at the Renwick Gallery

of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and

was later selected for the museum’s collection. Dated

1974, it is now known as the Renwick Stool and signaled

the start of Ebner’s success and recognition. Another

1974 piece, a rocking horse made of carved Douglas fir

and German yellow pine, was selected for the juried exhibition

Bed and Board at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln,


Moderne’s exhibition, entitled David N. Ebner: 50 Years

of Studio Furniture, traces all this and much more. It runs

through June 30. modernegallery.com


– Beth Dunlop