LAMA BLOG

California Craft: The Work of Arthur Espenet Carpenter

May 10, 2016

The Bay Area craftsman Arthur Espenet Carpenter (1920–2006) was one of the most celebrated figures in the post-war American Studio Furniture movement. A self-taught woodworker, Carpenter almost singlehandedly defined a new design aesthetic known as the “California roundover”—a style characterized by pleasingly flowing lines and gently-contoured edges that feel almost supple to the touch.

Lot 138, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Dining Suite
Lot 138, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, dining table (executed 1970)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Carpenter earned an economics degree from Dartmouth College, but after serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II, Carpenter rejected the world of business, pledging instead to find work he enjoyed. Attending the “Good Design” show at the Museum of Modern Art, where he would admire the hand-turned, wooden bowls he saw there by James Prestini, he decided he would make things himself. He moved to San Francisco and, with the help of a G.I. Bill small business stipend, opened a woodworking shop in the Mission district. Carpenter started by making bowls, which he sold through local retailers. Within a few years, Carpenter had moved to the coastal town of Bolinas, where he built furniture on commission. His national reputation was sealed in 1972 when, somewhat to Carpenter’s own surprise, his designs were shown by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in the exhibition “Woodenworks” alongside designs by George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick, Sam Maloof, and Wendell Castle.

Lot 138, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Dining Suite
Lot 138, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, “Wishbone” Chairs (executed 1969)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Rendered with skill and affection, such offerings as Carpenter’s rosewood jewelry box or his two walnut benches exude the gentle warmth of the hand-made object. This can be said, too, of the graceful, comfortable Wishbone chair, Carpenter’s signature design. The dining table included in this sale, having wooden-hinged drop leaves supported on organically curving struts, is unusual and unique. These designs exemplify the central tenet of Carpenter’s philosophy: that beauty derives from simplicity and usefulness.

Lot 139, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, wood benches (c. 1968)
Lot 139, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, wood benches (c. 1968)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

 

Lot 140, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Jewelry box with sliding insert (executed 1968)
Lot 140, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, jewelry box with sliding insert (executed 1968)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Renwick Gallery. Woodenworks; Furniture Objects by Five Contemporary Craftsmen: George Nakashima, Sam Maloof, Wharton Esherick, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Wendell Castle. St. Paul: Minnesota Museum of Art, 1972. Print. Iovine, Julie V., and Todd Merrill. Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam. New York: Rizzoli, 2008. Print. Mastelli, Rick. “Art Carpenter: The Independent Spirit of the Baulines Craftsman’s Guild.” Fine Woodworking. Nov.-Dec. 1982: 62-68. Print.

Lot Information:

Lot 138
Arthur Espenet Carpenter
Dining suite (5)
Studio, executed 1969 (chairs) and 1970 (table)
Walnut and leather
Chairs etched “Espenet 6931”; table etched “Espenet 7001”
Comprised of a table and four “Wishbone” chairs
LAMA would like to thank Arthur Espenet Carpenter III for his assistance in cataloguing these works
Chairs each: 31″ x 21″ x 20.5″
Table: 28.5″ x 41.5″ x 71″ (with leaves extended)

Provenance: Arthur Espenet Carpenter; Lucie Lawson, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, c. 1970); Private Collection, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, 1983)

Estimate: $60,000–$90,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 139
Arthur Espenet Carpenter
Wood benches (2)
Studio, executed c. 1968
Eastern walnut
Larger bench etched “Espenet 6846“
LAMA would like to thank Arthur Espenet Carpenter III for his assistance in cataloguing this work
16″ x 28″ x 11.5″
12″ x 21.5″ x 9.5″

Provenance: Arthur Espenet Carpenter; Lucie Lawson, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, c. 1970); June Schwarcz, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, 1983); Thence by descent

Estimate: $6,000–$9,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 140
Arthur Espenet Carpenter
Jewelry box with sliding insert
Studio, executed 1968
Tropical hardwood
Etched “Espenet 6808”
LAMA would like to thank Arthur Espenet Carpenter III for his assistance in cataloguing this work
3.25″ x 12.25″ x 10.25″

Provenance: Arthur Espenet Carpenter; Lucie Lawson, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, c. 1970); June Schwarcz, Sausalito, California (acquired directly from the above, 1983); Thence by descent

Estimate: $1,500–$2,500
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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