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Design Professor Emeritus Chris Martin to host “Farewell Iowa Sale” of handcrafted furniture

Some+examples+of+Chris+Martins+work+which+will+be+available+for+sale+this+week.+Much+of+his+work+is+inspired+by+traditional+Ghanaian+and+Indian+art.
Courtesy of Chris Martin
Some examples of Chris Martin’s work which will be available for sale this week. Much of his work is inspired by traditional Ghanaian and Indian art.

Chris Martin, who taught furniture design in the Department of Arts and Visual Culture at Iowa State for 23 years, is having a “Farewell Iowa Sale” of approximately 50 handcrafted pieces of his furniture before moving to Colorado this month. The sale will take place Dec. 7 from 4 to 7 p.m., Dec. 8 from 11 to 4 p.m., and Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon at Martin’s home at 1512 Florida Ave. in Ames.

Much of Martin’s work is inspired by the time he spent in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2008 to 2010 and as a Fulbright Fellow in India in 2016. During his time abroad, he learned about these regions’ traditional crafts and art styles and incorporated them into his work. 

“The stuff I was making prior to Peace Corps was very designerly well-made,” Martin said. “Then, when I got back, it became narrative. And the stuff that I was making had something to do with my experience there.”

Many of his pieces feature collaboration work with Ghanaian and Indian artisans whom Martin has met during his trips. Some of his stools are covered in Ghana cloth and Ghanaian coffin makers crafted the bases on certain side tables. Indian artisans did the aluminum work on other pieces.

Martin is driven by the materials he uses, placing an emphasis on sustainability. Sometimes, this involves using timber that people gave him, including wood from trees that were uprooted during the Iowa derecho in August 2020.

“I would get people who would call and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an old cherry tree in our yard that we’re gonna take down. Do you want the wood?’” Martin said. “Then I know… where the wood comes from, I know what the lineage of it is. And it has a story, too. I think that’s important… I love the idea of being able to tell people this [wood] came from trees from Iowa.”

When he is making commissioned work, Martin makes sure he understands their interests and expectations, as well as the other furniture they have in their home.

“I don’t want to do something quite like their other furniture, but I want to do something that complements that,” Martin said. “It’s a lot harder in commissions, but I always say I like to leave openings for serendipity in my work… It’s been great because I’ve worked with clients who know me and kind of trust me, so that has been a benefit.”

When Martin makes speculative work that isn’t commissioned, his creative process is slightly different.

“I just come up with an idea,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just, [these images] happen, and then I figure out how I can take those and make them physical. I see all these bits and pieces, and I can bring them together to create something.”

After Martin moves to Colorado, he plans to continue with his woodworking. He would also like to collaborate with Iowa State so that he can continue taking students to Africa, which he used to do for his Design for Sustainable Development course. Martin’s wife, Tammi, serves as the program coordinator and assistant director for Community Income Generation Innovations, Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods program, which also led the program.

While they were there, Martin’s students helped Ugandan women with product development as they worked on marketing and exporting their handmade traditional crafts, such as basket weaving, tailoring and jewelry making.

“I took students over, they worked with them for two weeks, and then we visit schools and do some other stuff while we’re there,” Martin said. “It’s really an amazing experience for the kids. They get to see a culture that they’re not used to… So I think it’s good for them to go experience it. And that’s what my hope is, that I can continue to do that.”

Examples of Martin’s work can be found on his website or on his Facebook page. 

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