Spotlight: American Studio Furniture

October 16, 2020
Wendell Castle | Zephyr chairs (2) | executed 1977 | Est. $20,000-30,000

Nurturing the needs of the body with objects of daily usefulness that are used, admired, respected and appreciated nurtures the soul as well. —Wendell Castle

As technology and machine-based manufacturing continue to blur disciplinary boundaries within furniture design, the aura of authentic craftsmanship only grows brighter. Merging the warmth of the human touch with impeccable and often ingenious design, American studio furniture invites us to nurture our relationship to both the material world and daily life. Among the 20th century stalwarts of the field are Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Wendell Castle, Victor DiNovi, and Sam Maloof, each represented in our October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction by exquisite works of handmade furniture.

Arthur Espenet Carpenter | Wishbone chair | executed 1972 | Est. $6,000-8,000

A self-taught furniture maker, Arthur Espenet Carpenter (1920-2006) co-founded the Baulines Craft Guild in 1972 to further the legacy of studio furniture by connecting apprentices with established craftspeople. That same period saw the completion of Lots 42, 41, and 40: Carpenter’s Wishbone chair and a desk and bookshelf/desk combination from the Baulines Craft Guild, respectively. Named for the distinct shape of the chair’s two sides, the sleek walnut and leather Wishbone chair (executed 1972) combines a naturally occurring form with understated beauty and utility. As Carpenter himself articulated: “My whole thing has been utility. If it isn’t comfortable and if it doesn’t last and if it doesn’t function, it’s no good. Furniture to me is something the body touches.” Thus appealing to the senses, Carpenter paid especial attention to his rounded edges, like those of Lot 40, as well as his selections of wood — contrasting grains for the eye and unfinished wood from Japanese oak trees for its aroma, for example.  

Like Carpenter’s elegant and deceptively simple Wishbone chair, Wendell Castle’s Zephyr chairs, Lot 40, harmonize material, line, and quotidian need for maximum effect. Castle (1932-2018) challenged the traditional boundaries of functional design from the outset of his career, maintaining that furniture should have the same impact as sculpture. Renowned for developing original techniques to shape solid, stack-laminated wood, Castle created furniture with a whimsical and organic approach, resulting in such iconic designs as the Zephyr chair — which has almost no hard edges.

Sam Maloof | Freestanding cradle | executed 2007 | Est. $20,000-30,000

A California-based contemporary of Carpenter and the first craftsperson to ever be recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, Sam Maloof (1916-2009) is today famed for his minimal and organic designs created without any nails or metal hardware. Lot 44, a free-standing cradle, is one of relatively few that Maloof made and evolved from the “cradle-hutch” design he created in 1966 under pressure to contribute to a bed-themed exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. At the time, Maloof chose to create something that “would prove immediately useful at home afterwards.” His son Slimen and wife Kathryn were expecting a baby, and Maloof made this first “cradle-hutch” to maximize the small space where the family was living with ample storage features. Lot 44, a later free-stranding version executed in 2007, retains the boat-like form of this first endeavor, while morphing into a stand-out centerpiece to be enjoyed by all members of the family.

Victor DiNovi | Two seat bench | executed 2000 | Est. $4,000-6,000

Like his predecessors, Victor DiNovi (b. 1945) works to breathe life into his furniture, “subtracting material to create the work, rather than adding material in order to assemble a sculptural form.” Lot 43, DiNovi’s Two-seat bench, executed in 2000, immediately conjures the distinctly human intimacy of sharing a park bench, and, by extension, sharing a conversation, a picnic, or a view. Not merely a stunning form, Lot 43 is a feat of engineering (which DiNovi studied) in which the sturdy structure appears almost light enough to levitate.

While each created with their own sensibility, these master craftsmen are united by shared tenets on full display in their works: namely, the conviction that furniture should not only be useful, but life-affirming.

Craft in America. “Victor DiNovi.” Accessed September 21, 2020.

Fine Woodworking. “Sam Maloof.” Accessed September 21, 2020.

Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Arthur Espenet Carpenter.” Accessed September 21,


Wendell Castle. Biography. Accessed September 21, 2020.

Lot Information:

Lot 40
Wendell Castle
Zephyr chairs (2)
executed 1977
Laminated and bent walnut and suede
Each initialed and dated
Each: 29.5” x 24.25” x 22.5” (75 x 61 x 57 cm)

Provenance:  Wendell Castle, Scottsville, New York; Private Collection, Rochester, New York (acquired directly from the above, 1977)

LiteratureWendell Castle: A Catalogue Raisonné 1958-2012. E. Eerdmans. 2016. 176.; Furniture by Wendell Castle. D.S. Taragin, E.S. Cooke, Jr., and J. Giovannini. 1989. 45, for similar example illustrated.

Estimate: $20,000–30,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 41
Baulines Craft Guild
executed 1972
Etched “Guido ’72/30” to underside
41.25″ x 46.25″ x 24″ (33″ extended) (105 x 117 x 61 cm)

Estimate: $6,000–8,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 42
Baulines Craft Guild
executed 1973
Etched “Guido ’73/14” to underside
34.25″ x 43.75″ x 18.25″ (33.25″ extended) (87 x 111 x 46 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 43
Arthur Espenet Carpenter
Wishbone chair
executed 1972
Walnut and leather
Etched 7211 and branded “Espenet”
30.75″ x 22″ x 23″ (78 x 56 x 58 cm)

Estimate: $6,000–8,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 44
Victor DiNovi
Two-seat bench
executed 2000
African Mahogany
Etched “Victor DiNovi/Santa Barbara/2000” to underside
30.875” x 44.25” x 23” (78 x 112 x 58 cm)

Estimate: $4,000–6,000
October 18, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

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