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Artisan: Purity in Motion

Strong hand-built furniture takes Richmond history to task.


With Stratman's work, nature is as close to the surface as possible — and it's always strong and symmetrical and weighted in the industrial history of Richmond. Her designs weld together the found bits of arcana that might lie along a railroad track or in a city street, waiting to be saved from obscurity and pushed in a new direction.

These pieces of metal are what salvaged Stratman's relationship with a city she didn't immediately love.

"Richmond at first didn't draw me at all," she recalls of her introduction here as an art student at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I thought it was ugly and smelly and horrendous. Now I see the city as quite beautiful. I've found my place here, and I love finding things here. Richmond has stuff buried everywhere you walk, all this industrial scrap. I pick it up and think about what it was used for, how it was made, the mass of it. I love to know that it was once part of a great machine or tool."

She takes discarded railroad clips, for example, and welds them into a latticelike inset for a bench made of railroad ties. Bolts become spidery legs, and scrap copper tubing gets new life supporting a poplar tabletop.

Stratman's handmade chairs and tables often move when they're touched, buoyed by springs or wheels and offering an invitation to interact. A "chable" is a cross between a chair and a table, and can flip up or down to serve either purpose. An accent table spins its top with the push of a curving oak handle. A spring chair made of leaf springs from an old Chevy van has a pleasing sense of sway, something that usually surprises the sitter, but was specifically intentioned by the artist. "I'm very about motion and double functions," Stratman says, "and the duality of things."

To create each piece, she surveys her inventory of scrap elements and lays them out in possible patterns, not knowing what might emerge. Function and geometry remain paramount as Stratman, who just graduated with a crafts degree, grapples with the sheer heft of the materials she's assembled. "I'm not a dainty person," she says, laughing, "and I love to use my hands. I love the sturdiness of these things." The finished pieces must, she says, be precise and purposeful and strong.

Sometimes it takes months for a design to come together, and it's likely to change along the way to suit the material and to maintain some level of practicality. Sculptural details — sometimes chiseled, sometimes welded — give each piece a signature look: modern industrialism layered with a certain playfulness.

She uses every tool in the crafts arsenal, including table saws, chisels, lathes, a welder and lots of sandpaper, for the high-touch finishes, sometimes polyurethaned into glossiness, but often unadorned to reveal the wood's natural saps and raw colorations.

Stratman hopes to be understood, she says, as "a person in touch with my surroundings, who escapes to nature but can come back to reality, who is practical, resourceful but creative. The dream is to make custom furniture that uses the found, historic parts of Richmond, that people can put in their homes for everyday use."


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