Gary James Bennett

Designer/Maker/Co-Owner – Jah-Roc Furniture

I am a carpenter by trade who has spent his life observing the balance and form of structures, both man-made and natural. For as long as I can remember I have been designing and making objects with the intent of creating them to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing. From an early childhood spent in rural W.A. spending time with uncles and grandfathers on farms, where in many cases items such as fences, buildings and equipment had to be created with very limited resources. Disused machinery and materials were always kept in a graveyard that was picked over again and again to serve as hardware store for projects around the farm. Dead tree butts were hand ripped to create a simple yet attractive bench seat. Gates were made from Jam tree branches and twitched with wire to create yet another well balanced utilitarian object. They were twitched with wire yet still constructed using good joinery so they wouldn’t have to repeat the labour a few years later. Many of these examples of our early settlers ingenuity are still doing their job 60 years later. I consider myself very lucky to have begun my apprenticeship in life surrounded by the great people in my immediate and extended family.

For the past 17 years I have been focusing on the creation of furniture with my long standing business partner and good friend David Paris. My journey of furniture making is heavily salted with the skills and habits I picked up hanging around on farms. The materials used are often (and in the beginning through necessity due to lack of funds) found or recovered from something disused. The early pieces (my rustic work) I made were firmly connected to my time as a carpenter. Old building beams recovered from demolition sites were only lightly rubbed and shaped so as to preserve as much of their past life as possible. These pieces were made to capture the essence of our past and by using somewhat over-sized sections of timber, I could create a feeling of strength and longevity. I sometimes combined slabs of Toodyay Stone in this work (the rock in Jah-Roc) which to me, at the time, seemed to be the ultimate in resilience seeing the stone had been around for 100’s of millions of years. I even borrowed an oxy-torch so I could make my own forged iron fittings using old bolts.

I found finer stone in the off cut piles in monumental yards and this started me exploring finer more polished designs which found their way into some our states finest regional Galleries such as Gunyulgup Gallery in Yallingup. Jah-Roc Furniture were also invited to exhibit some this work in Los Angeles, Japan and Italy.

After 6 years it seemed time to set up a home for business where we could create and show our work. We chose an old disused flour Mill in York as it seemed to have all the elements that we needed. Space, lots of old buildings and a large amount of Old wood and bits and pieces. The fact that the building was earmarked for demolition didn’t really bother us even though we hardly had two bob between us. The renovations were extensive on ongoing over many years.

The inspiration for the Jah-Roc Furniture designs I created in York came again from a rural grounding. Though the land has been stripped of vegetation to a large degree it still has a raw beauty and an inherent early settler feel that seems to seep into you as you drive over the escarpment. The sharp contrasts of wheat fields rimmed by belts of eucalyptus under an expansive vivid blue sky had me playing with contrasts of woods, leather metal and stone.

The grand Victorian architecture of the town with its well conceived civic buildings tells a story of a town with a rich past. I learned a lot by observing the old buildings about balance and form. The materials were salvaged from old farm sheds and rail bridges and now with a blacksmith onsite we really got into using forged iron. It made so much sense to use the smithy to make all our hardware for handles and connection brackets. After all they were once the only mechanics and tool makers in the area.

Being a water person I could not keep out of the water and spent many hours paddling my canoe up and down the Avon River. Here I observed closely the sinui trees that line the river banks. Those images and the birth of our first child was the inspiration of my take on a pencil post bed called “Life Begins”.

9 years in the wheat belt took its toll on my surfing and so my wife Lara and our 3 kids moved to Margaret River in 2001. I built us a house on the beach with a studio under it so I could continue my passion with furniture in a workshop with an ocean view.

My life has always been laced with stints at the ocean but moving there to live was like coming home. Sue’s chaise was the first design I created in my new studio and it seemed to reinforce my decision to mix more pleasure (surfing) with our business. Also living in this area I have been able to source materials from fallen trees found on local farms. The large slabs that we salvage from these trees inspired the ‘Wave’ sculptured edge that I developed when I found I just couldn’t do another bullnos.(see Spock designs)

Our recent work “The Reef Collection”, which was the result of a collaboration with Leslie John Wright, was inspired by underwater landscapes of overhanging reef ledges and modern architecture.

The house I have been building (and living in) is all about bringing the outside in. A friend in York had lent me some books about Architect Glen Murcutt and his concepts appealed immediately.

The Reef Collection’s cantilevered pieces of jarrah are cradled in polished stainless steel frames that give freedom to what has been perceived to be a heavy looking material. The space that this range can create is in symphony with the outside in concept.

Our latest project which is a collaboration between myself and Ian Bailey (an accomplished Architect and furniture designer) is driven by my desire to learn more about the formal design process. Being self taught I sometimes have challenges passing on my concepts to the production side of our business. Also, by collaborating, it helps me sit back and analyse our design direction and try different things that maybe I would normally leave alone. The designs we are working on reflect my current landscape which is the Margaret River region. They carry concepts from ‘The Reef’, ‘The Spock’ and even Sue’s Chaise Lounge. This work also tackles current environmental issues and our need to more with less material. The sophistication of today’s marketplace and the ‘shrinking of the world’ through high tech communication and transport, demands that we also address the size, weight and mobility of our creations.

Having read Michael Angelo’s story “The agony and the ecstasy” I am encouraged to know that even 500 years ago artists had to balance their creativity with commerciality.

Written by Gary Bennett in 2004

Gary James Bennett – Curriculum Vitae

Exhibitions

1988     York Art awards, York

1990     York Art awards, York

1991     Milan Furniture Fair (By invitation W.A. Government), Italy

1992     Pacific Design Centre, Los Angeles

1992     Gunyulgup Gallery, Yallingup

1993     FIAA Furniture Exhibition, Claremont

1994     “Out of the Woods”, R&I Tower Perth

1995     “Out of the Woods”, R&I Tower Perth

1995     York Art awards, York

1996     Furnitex, Melbourne

1997     FIAA Furniture Exhibition, Perth

1998     Cabernet Chairs, Perth (WA Art Gallery)

1999     “Out of the Woods”, Perth (BankWest)

2000     New Work (solo), Holmes`a Court Gallery East Perth

2003     Silhouettes, Form Gallery, Perth

2004     Silhouettes, Florence (Italy)

2005     Artisans Cape to Cape, Vasse Felix

2007     Project Abrolhos, JahRoc Gallery Margaret River

2009     Project West Kimberley, JahRoc Galleries

2013     Margaret River Project – Cape to Cape, JahRoc Galleries

Collectors

  • Myoshi Printing (Tokyo)
  • Starwood Hotels (New York)
  • Johanson and Johanson  (Zurich)
  • The Brown Family  (San Francisco)
  • The Hyatt Regency (San Francisco)
  • The Court Family (Perth)
  • Market Equity  (Perth)
  • Bowtel Clarke and Yole (Perth)
  • York Courthouse  (York)
  • Penrhoss College (Perth)
  • M.L.C (Perth)
  • Marcia Hines (Sydney)

Awards

1988     York Art Awards “Best Contemporary Entry”

1990     York Art Awards “Award for Excellence”

1991     Furniture Industry Association “Best New Design” Award

1991     West Australian Stand Milan Fair Italy “Best Design”

1992     Furniture Industry Association “Excellence in Design & Manufacture of a new product ‘Occasional Furniture'”

1993     FIAA Furniture Fair “Excellence in the use of Jarrah”

1993     FIAA Furniture Fair “Excellence in Occasional Furniture”

1993     FIAA Furniture Fair “Excellence in Western Australian Manufactured Furniture”

1994     FIAA Furniture Fair “Most Innovative Product using Western Australian Timber”

1994     Out of the Woods Exhibition “Overall Award for Excellence”

1995     Wesfi “Noel Hearn Fellowship Award” “Outstanding Contribution to the Development of an Export Market for Western Australian Furniture”

1995     Fine Woodwork Association “Award of Excellence”

1995     Fine Woodwork Association “Best in Show”

1995     York Art Awards “Award for Excellence in Craft”

1995     York Art Awards “Best Avon Valley Entry in Craft”

1995     Heritage Council “Award for work undertaken to conserve The Old York Flour Mill”

1997     York Tourism Awards “Marketing – for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting York”

1997     York Tourism Awards “Preservation of Heritage –  or work undertaken to conserve The Old York Flour Mill”

1997     FIAA Furniture of the Year Awards “Excellence in Dining over $3000″

1998     Cabernet Chairs Exhibition “Public Choice Award”

1999     Out of the Woods Exhibition “Best Commercial Furniture”

1999     York Tourism Award “Best York Business”

1999     FIAA WA “Dining Furniture – Highly Recommended”

2000     West Australian Tourism Awards “Award of Merit – Significant Regional Attractions”

2000     West Australian Tourism Awards “Finalist in Tourism Retailing”

2001     FIAA Sydney International Furniture Show “Best New Design using Australian Hardwood”

2001     Regional Tourism Awards “Best Tourist Attraction”

2001     West Australian Tourism Awards “Finalist – Significant Regional Attractions”

2002     FIAA Western Australia Category Award for “Excellence in Lounge Furniture”

2002     FIAA National Award for “Excellence in Lounge Furniture”

2002     FIAA National Award The Best of the Best National Award for “Overall Categories”

2003     Family Business Association “Best First Generation Family Business 2003″

2005     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Excellence in furniture using Western Australian Native Timber – Clearwood”

2005     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Excellence in Dining Furniture – Highly Commended”

2005     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Excellence in Bedroom Furniture”

2005     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Excellence in Furniture using Reconstituted Timber Panels – Timber Veneer Finish”

2005     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Best of the Best – Overall Categories”

2005     FIAA National Award for “Excellence in Furniture using Reconstituted Timber Panel”

2005     FIAA National Award for “Best of the Best – Highly Commended”

2009     FIAA Western Australian Award for “Excellence in Dining Furniture”

2009     FIAA Western Australia Award for “Excellence in furniture using Australian Native Timber”

2009     FIAA National Award for “Excellence in furniture using Australian Native Timber”

2009     FIAA Western Australian Award for “Best of the Best – Overall Categories”

2009     FIAA National Award The “Best of the Best” Award “Overall Categories”

2010    FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Commercial Furniture”

2011    FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Furniture using Australian Native Timber”

2011    FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in furniture using Fabric – over $2000”

2012   FIAA National Award for “Excellence in Furniture using Australian Native Timber”

2012    FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Furniture using Australian Native Timber”

2012    FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Commercial furniture – desking, seating, storage”

2013      FIAA National Award for “Excellence in Commercial Furniture Built In”

2013     FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Commercial Furniture Built in”

2013      FIAA WA Award for “Excellence in Dining Furniture – table and chairs”

Biographical Details

1961        Born Busselton W.A.

1973-76  City Beach High

1977        Leederville Technical College

1978-80  Carpenter/Joiner Subiaco

1981-87  Building projects around Australia

1987        Founded JahRoc Furniture in Scarborough

1989        Study tour of Los Angeles (invited to exhibit in Pacific Design Centre in West Hollywood)

1993        Moved JahRoc Furniture to the “Old York Flour Mill” commenced renovation project to create Workshops and “The Mill Gallery”

1995        Embarked on a 3 trip study tour of Japan as part of a “Noel Hearn Fellowship” where I learned about traditional Japanese woodworking techniques and was enchanted with Japanese artistic design particularly balance, form and placement.

2000       Study tour of Northern Italy from Florence-Venice-Udene-Milan. Attended Milan Fair and visited the Mandini Design House. An inspirational tour that continues to shape my current work

2001        Moved from York to Margaret River and built my new studio and home which is set amongst coastal heath and overlooks the ocean.

2002        Set up a Gallery in Margaret River

2003        Collaboration with Ian Bailey B.ARCH (Syd) FRAIA (London) to explore and formalize early concepts and relate my current landscapes and environs funded by Form. The result was the Silhouette Series

2004        Invited to exhibit Silhouette Series as part of a state representation of 10 artists in Florence Italy

2006        Designed and had built a major addition to our Margaret River Gallery to provide a contemporary space for large exhibitions

2007        Designed and built a brand new 500m2 studio/ workshop in the forest near the beach in Margaret River

2007        Collaborated with artist Larry Mitchell on Project Abrolhos

2009        Collaborated with Larry Mitchell on Project West Kimberley

2011       Collaboration with Jim Banks “Always Offshore” an exploration of wooden surfboards design and making.

2013       Collaboration with Larry Mitchell on “Margaret River Cape to Cape”

 

VIEW JAHROC FURNITURE GALLERY