Sitting Pretty | Mingei International Museum

"We thought making a simple and well-crafted bench aligned with the Museum's mission and was perfect for this exhibition." — Exhibition Designer, Jerry Maloney

Beautifully handcrafted gallery benches–does it get any more mingei than that?

When there was an opportunity to create new gallery benches for the exhibition, This is Our Story, Mingei’s Exhibition Designer Jerry Maloney, and Art Preparator David Leroi gladly stepped up to the challenge. Celebrating the beauty and craftsmanship of everyday objects is at the heart of the Museum’s mission. It's an ideology embedded in our exhibitions and programming, as well as in the hearts of the people who come to work here every day.

What is your background in craftsmanship?

Jerry: I'm mostly self-taught. I grew up around handy people–many of my family members were carpenters–so it was natural for me to explore woodworking.

David: I was born in France and I came to the U.S. in 2002. I lived in Miami for 17 years, mostly working as an independent artist and painting in studios. When I became a dad, I transitioned into museum exhibition, historical restoration, art restoration, and now art handling.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Jerry: We frequently get requests for seating in the galleries and wanted to create simple benches. We thought making a simple and well-crafted bench aligned with the Museum's mission and was perfect for the exhibition, This Is Our Story. Not too distracting while also being beautiful.

David: Jerry suggested we make new benches and it took off from there! Everyone loved the idea of making the space more handmade. It felt perfect for the tone of This Is Our Story, and for the Museum as a whole.

What was the process like designing and building a bench that is meant to be so simple?

Jerry: David and I collaborated on the benches. There was actually another set of benches from before the Museum was renovated that we used for inspiration. We liked their simplicity and size. The benches were intentionally made simple, and we added a touch of lightness to them by curving the legs using the bandsaw. It feels like they’re floating a little bit. Even though it’s simple, it shouldn’t be plain, and this little curve gives the benches something special to notice and makes it more than pieces of heavy wood.

As an exhibition designer and art preparator, this project was a little outside of your everyday tasks. Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again?

Jerry: This project was definitely fun. I don’t get to do this kind of fine woodworking often. As an exhibition designer, my day-to-day work is focused on preparing spaces for upcoming exhibitions or de-installing current shows. This includes activities like creating mounts, building and painting walls, 3-D modeling the exhibition space, and collaborating with the curators to perfect their vision. Working on these benches with David was a nice mental shift from my daily routine and I hope we get to do something like this again soon.

David: I loved it! It was quite the experience because everything needed to be perfect and pieced together by hand. I can't wait to work on another project like this, or dive deeper into fabricating custom-made metal mounts. It's challenging, but it's super rewarding.

Jerry Maloney, Exhibition Designer
David Leroi, Art Preparator

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