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Michael Puryear, Dan Chair, 2010

By Maeve Coudrelle | October 18, 2017
Photograph of a graphite-colored wooden chair, with a curved back and long horizontal seat

Michael Puryear, Dan Chair, 2010

Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Michael Puryear

Inspired by African and Japanese material culture, Michael Puryear seeks to imbue his furniture designs with “shibui,” or “simple elegance.” Puryear works primarily in wood, which appeals to him for its natural and hand-made character. The Dan Chair alludes to a pre-existing style of chair connected to the Dan people of West Africa. In addition to African roots, Puryear symbolically references the enduring legacy of the Atlantic slave trade in the U.S. The wood for the chair was sourced from Historical Woods of America, which provided Puryear with poplar from Monticello and pecan from Mount Vernon, the plantation houses of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, respectively. The designer also uses a Japanese technique called “ukibori” to produce raised marks on the wood, reminiscent of the physical and psychological scarring resulting from the enslavement of African Americans. Puryear notes that the dark color of the chair endows the piece with a sense of conceptual weight, while the fusion of linear and curved forms produces a satisfying overall effect.

Conversations with Smithsonian Craft Artists: Michael Puryear. Smithsonian Craft Show, 2016.

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Puryear is based out of Shokan, NY, and was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he earned his B.A. in Anthropology at Howard University. His brother Martin, a world-renowned sculptor, is also in the Smithsonian collections.

James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Lecture with Michael Puryear. Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2013. 

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The opportunity to work with woods supplied by Historical Woods of America, specifically poplar from Monticello and pecan from Mt. Vernon, provided me with the opportunity to acknowledge and honor the contributions of African American slaves to this country. Like my own ancestry this heritage began before the founding of the United States. African Americans have fought with honor and loyalty in every war of our nation. They have significantly contributed economically, socially, culturally and politically to American culture.

Michael Puryear


CERF+. “Michael Puryear.” October 1, 2016.

Stender, Thomas W. “Michael Puryear.” In The Penland Book of Woodworking: Master Classes in Woodworking Technique, 56-66. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2006.

Takes, Joanna Werch. “Michael Puryear: Evolving as a Woodworker.” Woodworker’s Journal, November 16, 2010.