Feature > A New Path for Established Artists

Great works of art are sparked by great ideas, and that is the shortest story of how a fantastic partnership between two giants of New Hampshire’s art world came to be. “David Lamb and I will always be indebted to Diane Griffith for thinking of this collaboration,” says James Aponovich, a painter who’s also New Hampshire’s artist laureate. “Diane had the courage to start with as bold an artistic statement as we could ever imagine.”

“This project has been so involved,” furniture maker David Lamb adds. “It’s brought both of us further along as artists.”

The project to which Lamb refers is a secretary—nicknamed “Lambovich I” by the artists—a piece of furniture first seen in this country in the late eighteenthcentury Federal era. But the elegant secretary Lamb built is no reproduction. “While its design follows a traditional format and the piece fits in well with antiques, the form of this piece has evolved,” Lamb explains. “I have rearranged things, but I haven’t broken any rules.”

What Makes this Secretary Unique

The first clue that this is not a typical secretary is the lunette inlaid into the crown molding. The oval painting by Aponovich shows three morning glories—one for each of the artists and another for Griffith—on gold leaf. “That is the first indication of our collaboration,” Aponovich explains. “And it’s our way of encouraging the viewer to explore the piece.”

The second indication that this secretary is unique is the way the lid opens to reveal the desk. Lamb wanted to avoid using knobs or other visible hardware—for this secretary, he pulls up on a key he inserts to open the lid. He then slides the lid back and a piece of hardware kicks out a writing surface, which is then pulled out.

The third and most striking difference between this secretary and others is the arrangement of its upper half. Instead of serving a functional purpose with drawers, cubbies, bookshelves and other storage areas, this secretary is purely decorative. It has what both artists refer to as a “temple” that showcases Lamb’s extraordinary craft as a cabinetmaker and Aponovich’s exquisite paintings.

Flanking two doors are two niches that appear to display two vases. Upon closer inspection, though, you realize that these are not real niches with real vases but rather impeccably executed paintings—one depicts a seventeenth-century blue-and-white Chinese porcelain vase, the other a colorful, nineteenth-century cloisonné vase from Japan. “I had to paint as precisely as I could to convey the three dimensions and convince the viewer that the niches were made from real wood,” Aponovich says.

But the real treat involves what’s behind the closed doors—a marvelous triptych painted by Aponovich. The central panel features one of his signature motifs of a bowl of fruit surrounded by finely rendered flowers (here, morning glories) in the foreground with a New Hampshire landscape in the background. “I decided to use vertical flowers as buttressing images on the panels on the backs of the doors,” explains Aponovich. “One side is hollyhocks and the other shows foxglove.” Aponovich painted these flowers on gold leaf, because “that’s what they did in the Renaissance. It also matched the yellow fabric shown in the central panel,” he says.

Ron Tuveson and his son Jared in Rollinsford did the gilding with a German-made twenty-three-karat gold, which Ron says they chose because of its rich color and suppleness; its thickness also produces a brighter burnish when it’s polished. “I chose the most sumptuous gilding for the doors,” says Aponovich. “It was pretty scary, as I didn’t know how the paint would go on and I was not at liberty to make mistakes.”

In a slight twist of irony for such a decorative piece of furniture, Griffi th maintains that she will use the secretary—“reading and writing are what I most enjoy for activities,” she says— which is the latest addition to a “fair number” of Lamb’s pieces she has acquired over the past twenty-five years. “Home is what matters to me, and I made the decision to fi ll mine with functional art.”

She explains that while other commissions to Lamb were initiated by what she needed for her home, “this one came from figuring out how the three of us could work together.” She says she enjoys being part of the process and that “the greatest pleasure of creating this secretary was watching two artists at the top of their respective professions work together.”

Accounts of artists collaborating on projects occur throughout the history of art,” says Kurt Sundstrom, associate curator at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. “While ego and creative differences can obstruct the creative process, a work of art can conversely record a congenial relationship where both artists are self-driven to new artistic heights. Such is the case with David Lamb and James Aponovich’s collaborations. Both artists were enlivened by the other through a magnanimous exchange of ideas, all directed toward a common artistic goal.”

Collaboration Continues Bearing Fruit

While Lamb has been creating furniture since he was fifteen (he now lives and works at the place once owned by his first teacher, Spanish master cabinetmaker Alejandro de la Cruz, just down the road from the Canterbury Shaker Village), for the last fifteen years he’s been an active member of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters. In fact, he was one of the organization’s founders.

Each October, the Furniture Masters hold an auction of their members’ spectacular work (see below), an event that attracts furniture lovers from around the country. At last year’s auction, two of those aficionados were Dan and Denise Roberts, who went home with a cherry and cocobolo table by Lamb as well as a second table in ebony, rosewood and bird’seye maple by Garrett Hack. “I was immediately attracted to David’s work, and he is very kind and easy to talk to,” Denise says.

When Lamb told the Robertses about Lambovich I and invited them to his shop to see it, they were very excited. “James [Aponovich]’s name has been on my radar screen since we began collecting art five years ago,” Denise says. “So when David asked if we’d like to patron a piece for [the Furniture Masters] auction like the Lambovich I, we were honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him and James.”

The Robertses and the two artists came up with the idea of a bookcase for Lambovich II, but this is no ordinary bookcase. Its style is a nod to the Portsmouth and Exeter furniture of the early 1800s with its use of mahogany and birch. Above the doors that conceal shelves to hold books and magazines is another door that opens out, much like the writing surface on the Lambovich I secretary. Opened, it reveals Aponovich’s stunning painting of Crawford Notch as seen from Elephant Rock looking toward North Conway. (He says he chose that subject because “David, Dan and I are all from New Hampshire.”) The painting is set between two columns of Lamb’s carved irises. “These are not the big bearded irises but rather the flags that are native to New Hampshire,” Lamb explains.

The irises also appear on the crown of the piece, which Lamb fashioned from crotched birch inlaid with ebony. “This was the first time I’ve ever painted directly on wood,” Aponovich says, “and that was pretty nerve-wracking.” But the results are astounding—the little ladybug and drops of water on the irises fool the eye; they look absolutely real.

The Robertses, who have never worked with artists in the way they have with Lamb and Aponovich, are delighted with the result. “The Lambovich II is a rare beauty,” Denise says, “and I love the fact that it has such a wonderful story.”

“What a gift it is to have world-renowned masters like James and David living here in New Hampshire,” Dan adds.

Save the Date!

If you love fine furniture—and want an up-close look at the Lambovich bookcase—don’t miss the New Hampshire Furniture Masters’ Auction on October 26. The event is fun and exciting, and a great way to meet the artists and see what they have created.

Doors open at 3:30 p.m. for a preview with the New Hampshire Furniture Masters, who will be joined this year by James Aponovich, New Hampshire’s artist laureate. A silent auction of smaller handcrafted items and gala reception begin at 4:30 p.m. The live auction starts at 6:30 p.m. with auctioneer Stephen Schofield. Tickets are $75.

The Fourteenth Annual New Hampshire Furniture Masters’ Auction
Sunday, October 26
The Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle