The Artful Furniture Maker
By Philip Isaacson
From The Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine May 19, 2010
If you are drawn to furniture infused by tradition and made with notable excellence, there is a rare opportunity at hand. Kevin Rodel’s studio in Brunswick will be open to the public through early June. Rodel is a custom furniture maker and, like others of the ilk, seldom has work to show. Things get made and go out, leaving only photographs behind. As chance has it, he has a group waiting to leave and because his work is singular in Maine, the occasion is worthy of note.
If Maine has a current furniture-maker attitude, it runs from Shaker to Modernism as interpreted in wood. I note that there are also references to formal and provincial forms extracted from the 18th century, but by and large the simplified forms from the range I have suggested prevail. Hence my suggestion that you see Rodel’s work.
It is outside of the present range. He works within the attitude of, as he puts it, International Arts and Crafts. His furniture provides an opportunity to roll Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Vienna Secession, Wiener Werkstatten, Joseph Hoffman, Kolomon Moser, Eliel Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright if you wish, Harvey Ellis, Stickley, Greene and Greene and Japanese Arts and Crafts around in your mind. Those designers didn’t quite fuse, but they kept an obvious eye on one another.
Rodel’s work is not a distillate of that brew, but its deep bows to Mackintosh and lesser nods to the old Japanese Arts and Crafts movement fascinate me. There is a wistfulness to Mackintosh’s work that finds its way into Rodel’s. Mackintosh flourished from the 1890s through the early 1920s in Scotland and Vienna, but the richness of the period for designers did not fully embrace Mackintosh.
There is an underlying severity to his work—his manner of manipulating mass, space, line and color—that is fascinating. It invites you to inspect, but then insists that you accept it for its rationality despite the lure of its decorative elements. Of the latter, the decoration—geometry and reduction to essential organic form—is ravishing if I can apply that term to almost dictatorial underlying forms. I find this fascination in Rodel’s beautiful furniture.
If you don’t get all this, take the opportunity to look at the work now at Rodel’s studio. It’s a pleasure to see. There has been no comparable opportunity in a public space.
Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 45 years.