Judy Kensley McKie on Design Process

Judy Kensley McKie

Judy Kensley McKie earned a BFA in painting at Rhode Island School of Design in 1966 and turned to furniture-making a few years later out of necessity as she and her husband could not afford to buy any. Though McKie had never set foot in a woodshop during her studies, her father was a woodworker who taught her the basics during her childhood. She drew upon these lessons and began fashioning simple furniture for her home. Friends saw her furniture and requested some of their own, setting McKie on a path toward furniture design and craft.

Throughout the 1970s, McKie honed her skills in workshop settings in and near Boston and taught herself how to carve decorative elements for her creations. She never took a formal class, later admitting “I probably should have.” In the late 1970s, three of her pieces were shown in an exhibition for “new handmade furniture” at the American Craft Museum in New York (now the Museum of Arts and Design) alongside works by Wendell Castle and Garry Knox Bennett. Bennett introduced her to bronze casting via the Artworks Foundry and by the late 1980s she was creating limited editions in the medium.

McKie’s earlier works featured geometric or natural motifs carved into their surfaces but, over time, she began to utilize animal forms as the structures themselves; two dogs might hold up a glass tabletop, or a cat’s long back serves as a bench. Her reliance on recognizable, widely admired forms in combination with her signature visual style imbues McKie’s furniture with a timelessness that has kept her work in fashion for decades. Far from slowing down, the interest in her pieces has only grown and she is now deservedly considered to be among the upper echelon of the American studio furniture movement.

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