You may not have heard of Sylvie Rosenthal yet, but you will. At age 23, she’s already getting national attention for her creative woodworking & most recently at the Furniture Society conference in Madison. A senior student in the BFA program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Sylvie brings her unique perspective and imagery to works that usually combine wood and metalworking.
Despite her free mix of media, Sylvie considers herself a woodworker. That’s probably because it’s the medium she first used to express herself.
“I was always using tools as a kid. I’m pretty sure it was my grandfather who first took me to the basement and let me hammer some nails,” Sylvie recalled. “By the time I was ten, I had my own drill and circular saw. And I worked for a long time at the Eli Whitney Children’s Museum in New Haven, Connecticut [where she’s from].
It was a hands-on place and I helped teach classes and build displays. I was usually the youngest and the only girl in the class, and I learned how to use a band saw and disk sander. During summer classes I would build castles and robots & that’s what got me started.”
Not quite sure what direction to take, however, she took welding classes after high school. She knew she wanted to create something with her hands, so she thought about sculpture. Though encouraged by her family and her boss at the museum to be an artist, she became disenchanted with the idea of art just for art’s sake and turned to furniture.
“You can make it a piece of art,” she explained, “Yet people approach it with an understanding of the function and aren’t really afraid of it.”
Many of Sylvie’s designs start as doodles or thumbnail sketches & often based on things that pop into her head. To avoid losing the gesture and proportions of her original idea, she’ll use an overhead projector to enlarge the image and trace out what will become the full-scale drawing. To help her see all sides of the piece before she starts, she sometime makes a quick scale model.
“I don’t think too much about technical aspects when I design the overall piece & though I do think about its function. If it’s a chair, I really make it a comfortable chair. So, I find out about chair heights and make mockups of what I think will be comfortable. I try to weave the function into the overall design to make them come together seamlessly. I do a lot of looking and drawing.”
One of Sylvie’s interests is in public art. For one reason, planning a public piece gets her thinking about her work in a whole different way. And for another, she wants more than just rich people to be able to enjoy her work.
“I always want to touch and feel things, and interact with them. And I think things in everyone’s daily life should be art and that you can combine it all together.”
After college, she’d like to study wood sculpture and learn more about working with ferrous metals. Other options would be to join a co-op shop, perhaps do some more traveling or maybe a take a residency at Anderson Ranch or Appalachian Center For Craft.
“I’d also love to apprentice someone, to see how they operate a small business.” Sylvie explained. “I hope to able to make a living at it someday & and have my own shop.”