California has a lengthy history of woodworking and studio furniture design. One of the most renowned master woodworkers was Arthur Espenet Carpenter.
Born in 1920, Arthur Espenet Carpenter was a self-taught furniture maker. He began making wood turned bowls at his studio in San Francisco in the late 1940s to early 1950s. By the mid-1950s, he had expanded to build custom furniture. Carpenter found that production was so busy that he felt disconnected from the furniture building process. In 1957, he decided that it was time to relocate to Bolinas, California, where he custom built his own house for his family. At his Bolinas studio, Espenet would create unique one-of-a-kind pieces for his clients, as well as his most well-known iconic pieces, such as the Wishbone armchair.
Espenet valued function as well as form. While his furniture pieces appear quite sculptural, they were also designed with comfort and utility in mind. For example, the arm hits the armrest of the Wishbone chair at just the right angle. Clars is offering a suite of eight Wishbone chairs, including two armchairs, with an auction estimate of $20,000–$30,000 in our June 15th Design auction. Also to be offered is a stunning dining table having five butterfly inlays, estimated at $10,000–$15,000.
While there’s a certain simplicity or minimalism to Espenet’s designs, great attention is also paid to the finer details. An example of this point is the drop-down cabinet, which features a wood turned locking knob above well carved hinged supports, that sold at Clars for $5,937.
Another example of Espenet’s extraordianry attention to detail can be seen in a set of two nesting walnut low tables, which commanded $6,875 at auction. While seemingly simple, the tables feature exposed dovetail joinery.
The featured Arthur Espenet Carpenter jewelry box below, while quite functional, is also very sculptural. The contoured form has six bandsaw-carved drawers that feature prominently on the case.
Though Arthur Espenet Carpenter passed away in 2006, his legacy continues with his son, Tripp Carpenter, who learned woodworking as a child, and now is a professional woodworker in his own right.