David Orth: bio & testimonials

American sculptor, studio furniture artist, industrial designer, & liturgical artist, b.1953. Working in wood, steel, & bronze.

Orth was born in Texas, but lived with his expatriate family in Costa Rica & Guatemala during the 1960s. In his 20s he lived briefly in Amsterdam. He has lived and worked in the Chicago area since then.

Orth's work shows contrasts between mainstream 20th Century design and ideas from archeology, anthropology, & world art. True to his own personal conflicts, Orth’s work exhibits Gothic/ Existential drama and the simple play of Mid-Century Modern – sometimes within the same piece. Orth’s early projects were highly polished, residential furniture in a range of Arts & Crafts, Prairie School, & Modern styles. However, for the bulk of his career Postmodern issues have been a priority – producing work featuring weathered & deconstructed surfaces, fine art patinas on wood and metal – and a wide range of functionality (or lack of it) including public sculpture and alternative liturgical and funerary objects. The work celebrates craft for its engagement with materiality & function - and fine art for its mysticism and exploration. Orth is most engaged with De Stijl, Postminimalism, & Deconstruction.

Orth's sculpture & furniture have been featured in museums and galleries since the early 1980's. He has taught sculpture, interior architecture, and designed objects at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a member of the Chicago Furniture Designers' Association and served on its board of directors for five years. He teaches metalworking, boatbuilding, and a bit of woodworking at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and gives occasional presentations at local guilds & clubs. One of his academic interests is developable form (think boat or seedpod structure), analyzed digitally or manually, and applied to the design of sculpture and functional objects.

While two degrees in philosophy are an unusual background for this line of work, the habit of constant questioning & restructuring enters his work at multiple levels. The broad idea that serious craft might be a way of seeing and engaging the world took hold of him during graduate work in philosophy and redirected his attention to design. In his own words, art offers “highly-electrified connections between ordinary life, human longing, and the insane immensity of the universe. Philosophy takes entirely too long to get around to that”. He describes the situation in words adapted from T. S. Eliot.

“[Every design] is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

The furniture and sculpture that result are broadly appealing, critically acclaimed, and unexpected. James A. Mangum, author of the Dos Cruces Trilogy has called Orth’s work “Amazing, overwhelming, musical. rock and roll, the blues, arias.” Designer Sandy Hill says the work has “wonderful, mess-with-your-mind appeal.” 





In its heyday, the cranky "New Art Examiner" rated Orth's furniture among the "most sophisticated work, displaying an articulate, loving sense of craftsmanship drawn from the past ...sustained conceptually by...humor and personal vision....highly sensual...finely tuned...consistent...truly 'art furniture.

WBEZ Chicago Public Radio singled out Orth's tables at the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design observing that, "they really occupy that space between 'what is furniture?' and 'what is art?' and they don't in any way take advantage of cow spots or carved palm trees or some of the art furniture stuff we've gotten so used to. Really very, very beautiful work." (Victoria Lautman)

Lois B. Gries, past president of the American Society of Interior Designers, Illinois Chapter, endorses Orth's approach: "I have worked with David Orth very successfully over some time. My clients are very impressed with the originality, timelessness and quality of his functional art. His work is uniquely his own style and works so well in any environment. I am easily able to communicate with him as to my clients' needs and he never fails to deliver a design that is beautiful, appropriate, and on time."

Orth’s art is amazing…overwhelming…the primal versus the ethereal. Rock and roll...the blues...arias.
- Jim Mangum, author of the Dos Cruces Trilogy)

Marilyn Davis ASID, IIDA says, "Professionalism is the operative word in working with David Orth. His follow-through and timeliness are admirable. As an interior designer, I appreciate the artistic integrity with which David adapts his designs to specific sites."

"Good work."
- Walter A. Netsch, American architect

"Serious design."
- Ruth Duckworth, American sculptor

"Holy Cow."
- Kerry Aufderheide, Blue Table Studio, Denver