a blog about design, art and ideas



May 2014

Michael Cullen and the Medici

by Julian Cohen, on Craft, Furniture maker, Medici

Who were the Medici?

The Medici were an important family in Tuscany dating back to the late 12th century. The lasting legacy of the Medici was their patronage of the arts. The list of artists supported by the Medici reads as a “Who’s Who” of the Italian Renaissance. In the Wikipedia article, House of Medici, it says in the section Legacy, “The biggest accomplishments of the Medici were in the sponsorship of art and architecture, mainly early and High Renaissance art and architecture. The Medici were responsible for the majority of Florentine art during their reign. Their money was significant because during this period, artists generally only made their works when they received commissions in advance.”

Michael Cullen

Michael Cullen is a studio furniture maker living and working in Petaluma, California. His woodworking career evolved from his background in mechanical engineering, and a Bachelor of science degree from UC Santa Barbara, 1983. Looking for a more artistic livelyhood, Michael decided to study furniture making and design under the direction of David Powell at Leeds Design Workshops in Easthampton, Massachusetts, 1986-88. After this, Michael moved to Boston to work with Jamie Robertson at the well-known Emily Street Workshops, 1988-90. For more on Jamie Robertson check these Artful Home and Facebook links.

During the past two decades, Michael's work has been featured in both trade and design publications and has received numerous awards. His work is shown and collected throughout North America, Europe and New Zealand. Presently, Michael divides his time creating furniture, teaching, and writing articles on design and technique.

As a member of the Baulines Craft Guild, Michael also has a program for apprentices. The Baulines Craft Guild is a non-profit organization that has achieved national recognition for its Education Programs. Guild members' works are represented in major museum collections such as the "Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the de Young Museum of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Oakland Museum of California."

Michael’s work is shown at the Johnson's gallery in Easthampton, in numerous museums and at craft exhibits. Half his work is done on commission, and the rest done on speculation. At the beginning of a commission, clients often come to his studio to discuss the design process and material choices. Michael starts with hand drawings and then builds a precise model at 1/6th scale out of the chosen wood species to give the client a real representation of the piece to come.

The New Medici

One such client, Richard and Kathy Jaraczewski, was introduced to Michael by ARC Design, Marie and I, to build a number of pieces for their living room. Marie collaborated with Michael on the design of a coffee table, two side tables and two display stands to show off two of the pieces of their studio art glass collection. In love with Michael and his work, Richard and Kathy commissioned 7 more pieces from Michael in which Richard and Kathy gave Michael their input.

The journey that began with an introduction lead to a friendship and a collection. Richard and Kathy are the new Medici, but there is so much more to the story. The process was about patronage for sure, yet there is added value in friendship/community and local/green. For me, it is heart warming to be involved, in a peripheral way maybe, in the continuum of art patronage, and helping to keep the continuum alive.

Now and Next

Recently Michael completed a successful residency at Purchase College in New York, culminating with, The sculpture "Voices" that students, faculty and Michael collaborated on.

I am working on a post about Michael’s journey and drive back to California from Purchase College last December. He decided on the spur of the moment to take a detour and head north to Pocatello, Idaho where he was born and three generations of Cullen's before him. Something very special happened there that connected Michael to three generations of woodworkers before him.

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