Inspiration #3: Richard Newman

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Blog entry by Byron posted 11-23-2011 05:44 AM 11713 reads 2 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I’ve mentioned him a lot in my posts so far, and luckily I was able to learn from him this past quarter as an intern professor. Richard Newman is incredibly brilliant and talented but unfortunately has given up on making furniture. Now he makes banjos, probably the most well made you can buy. He had a great run of making some of the most complicated, intricate, and precise furniture of his time. I could ramble on and on but here are pictures of some of his work.

The centerpiece for the P&E show was a fluted cabinet on stand. It is difficult for anyone, except perhaps another maker, to appreciate the amount of time that such a piece requires, particularly for a small shop such as Newman’s. The cabinet design evolved from Newman’s thinking about fluted boxes (see 1989 Ebony show). The cabinet itself is oval, making its design and construction even more difficult. Its single door opens to a bird’s-eye maple interior that houses two shelves and one shallow drawer. The stand’s four legs are shaped helical flutes that twist in opposite directions on the left and right sides of the cabinet. The helix begins as a straight vertical flute from the foot that travels through the ebony bracelet attachment for the stretcher, and then accelerates. The stretcher mirrors the fluting of the cabinet and is surfaced similarly with figured maple facings and ebony trim. The diameter of each leg increases in proportion to the increase in the helix. The ebony finial is itself an accomplishment of form and execution. There are a number of excellent case pieces in Newman’s work, including the one that would be in the 1989 MFA Boston exhibit New American Furniture, but none would compare with the flamboyance and passion of this piece.

The design of Richard Newman’s umbrella stand also used the bound bundle metaphor. This time the structure is actually made by joining of curved staves. These elements were not staves in the usual sense, they were complex laminations that allow the compounding of the curve. The elements that joined the staves were surfaced in ebony, adding a heightened sense of depth, structure, and material richness. Although the form itself was attractive and unusual, on close inspection it was the beaded bronze banding that made you catch your breath. The braided beads were individually cast and gold plated, and set into an ebony bracelet. A perfectly fitted, interior-blackened copper canister fulfilled the piece’s functional promise.

-- Byron Conn, Woodworking/Furniture Design at Rochester Institute of Technology,

4 comments so far

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

1099 posts in 4350 days

#1 posted 11-23-2011 04:05 PM

Fantastic post. Thanks for taking the time to post and comment on these photos. I build all wooden clocks and I have my design eyes set on similar elegance for my next clock. I don’t have formal training, spent 25 years in the Navy but, I have been graced by god with talent that won’t let go to waste! ‘m right here in Rochester NY and about 15 minutes away from RIT. (Pittsford area). Maybe we could get together over a cup of good Navy coffee. Here’s my website: and my email: [email protected]

VR/Charles Maxwell “Max”

-- Max the "night janitor" at

View Byron's profile


92 posts in 2923 days

#2 posted 11-25-2011 07:27 AM

Your clocks are really sweet. Ill be back in Rochester after the weekend so feel free to email me as well, [email protected]

-- Byron Conn, Woodworking/Furniture Design at Rochester Institute of Technology,

View enginerd's profile


6 posts in 4002 days

#3 posted 01-01-2012 09:28 AM

Great post! I had a shop down the hall way from Richard several years ago in Rochester and also had the opportunity to work with him for about a year. In short, finest furniture ever made. Richard would labor over every detail of a piece until it was perfect—never compromising. Sad to hear that he is moving back to making banjos, great for musicians though.

David F. Wichita, KS

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1 post in 2359 days

#4 posted 06-05-2013 10:46 PM

I was lucky enough to work for Richard Scott Newman in the early 1980’s. I was trained by David Powell, but my training at Leeds Design Workshops was only an appetizer for what I learned from Richard. It is hard for me to believe that he is not better represented in the major U.S. art museums. As a museum technician at the Yale University Art Gallery for 15 years, I can tell you that it is rare to see and touch woodwork and furniture that is made as well. My hat is off to the man, the teacher and the craftsman!

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