David Orth: bio & testimonials

American sculptor with a range of specialties - residential furniture, public sculpture, alternative liturgical, and funerary objects.  Works broadly with functional, non-functional, and ceremonial objectives.  Orth's primary materials are wood, steel, and  bronze.  Since 1980.

Orth spent his first nine years in Texas, but then moved with his expatriate family to Costa Rica & Guatemala during the 1960s.  In all these places he was drawn to local craftwork where he developed informal mentoring situations with inventive craftsmen working simply with centuries old methods.  In his 20s he lived and worked 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 & world art. True to his own personal conflicts, Orth’s work exhibits both Gothic drama and the happy play of Mid-Century Modern – often within the same pieces. 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.  As far as design movements go, Orth feels most engaged with the Western movements of De Stijl, Postminimalism, and Deconstruction.  The Non-Western  aesthetics of Japan have also been an influence.

Orth's sculpture & furniture have been featured in museums and galleries since the mid-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 at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and gives occasional presentations at local guilds & clubs.  Orth leads trips to Japan with a focus on crafts, architecture, & landscaping.

While two degrees in philosophy are an unusual background for this line of work, the habit of constant questioning & restructuring enters David's 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 returned his attention to working with his hands. 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 pilfered from T. S. Eliot.

“Every [pencil line] 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."

The resulting furniture, sculpture, & ceremonial objects 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