John Smith, furniture designer/maker and educator, passed away on February 24 this year. He was a trailblazer, known not only for his modernist furniture but for his impact on the design scene in Australia, specifically in Tasmania.
John was amongst the first of a wave, if it can be called that, of English designer/makers who came to Australia in the 70s and 80s and exerted a huge influence. Those were the days of the ‘craft revival’, but John was about design and form, as opposed to material and the mechanics of joining it. The latter is not to say that his own work did not celebrate the materials themselves. Geometric, colourful, abstract, allegorical on many levels, John’s personal output of furniture was fearless in the shapes and guises it took.
John came to Hobart to take up a position as a lecturer with the Tasmanian School of Art which later became part of the University of Tasmania. In 1981 John became head of the University’s Wood/Furniture Design program and taught until his retirement in 2007.
Way back in April, 1993, in only its second issue, Australian Wood Review published a profile of John Smith written by Peter Collenette*, another Tasmanian formerly from the UK. You can read Peter’s story here as a 1mb download. Part of the story also contains some of John’s own words as he reflects on insights gained from a study period in Europe.
You can read a full obituary of John Smith, his life and work, written by Grace Cochrane AM, former senior curator of Australian decorative arts and design, Powerhouse Museum at this link.
* Peter Collenette has had a career as a maker and a journalist and was also one of the founders of the Australian School of Fine Furniture which is now part of the School of Architecture & Design at the University of Tasmania in Launceston. He has written several stories for Wood Review. Contact him via www.tasmanianfinefurniture.com