Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song

Add to
Like
Comment
Share
By Diana Budds
From a 200-square-foot garage-turned-workshop, Silvia Song skillfully sculpts wooden wares.

Woodworking requires a steady hand, strong instincts, and a meticulous attention to detail. Berkeley-based designer Silvia Song is one such person who possesses these characteristics. Originally trained as an architect, Song began her craft as a way to explore form making. She first used clay, but after an allergic reaction forced her to stop experimenting with it, she traded a potter's wheel for a lathe.

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 1 of 8 -

Wood sculptor Silvia Song's studio is located in her former garage in Berkeley, California.

"I think we are naturally drawn to earthy materials, like clay, wood, and stone," Song says. Modern designers have had a long affair with wood, each coaxing out different characteristics. George Nakashima turned imperfections like burls and knots into highly prized furniture items. J.B. Blunk used chainsaws to form his wooden sculptures. Jens Quistgaard defined midcentury tableware with his sculptural teak pieces for Dansk.

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 2 of 8 -

Song's inspirations include Dieter Rams, Isamu Noguchi, Buckminster Fuller, and Peter Zumthor ("The use of materials in each of his buildings is ethereal," she says). Books about the icons rest on her studio's shelves, along with an armada of chisels, clamps, and hammers.

"Wood is constantly in flux, even after it has been felled," Song says. "It is a breathing material—it expands and contracts, depending on its environment."

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 3 of 8 -

Song waxes poetic about her medium. "Wood is constantly in flux, even when it has been felled," she says. "It is a breathing material. It expands and contracts, depending on its environment. I work with wood because it primordial to me. It feels like an intuitive process to study wood. I need to understand and work with it and allow it to become what it wants to be." The round cole jaw and chucks she uses on her lathe hang on a wall in her studio.

Song's repertoire includes minimalist bowls, cutting boards, drip-coffee cones, and platters. She produces everything herself, by hand, without any assistants in her studio. " I work with wood because it primordial to me," she says. "It feels like an intuitive process to study wood. I need to understand, and work with it, and allow it to become what it wants to be."

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 4 of 8 -

Song's walnut nesting bowls are available from Kaufman Mercantile.

For a bowl, she typically starts with a block of wood, inspects it for cracks and knots, trims it down to size on a bandsaw or chainsaw, and then cuts it into a round blank that gets mounted onto a lathe—a tool which rotates an object on an axis. She shapes exterior of the bowl, sands the exterior, then mounts it onto a chuck to turn the inside using a bowl gouge. After mounting the bowl onto a cole jaw to remove the tenon (a stump of the wood that's used to mount the bowl to the chuck) and giving it a final sanding, Song then applies oil and wax to the finished piece. She typically uses sugar maple and claro walnut, two woods that are readily available. "Sugar maple is quite dense and the grains are very consistent whereas walnut is much more porous," she describes.

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 5 of 8 -

She produces everything herself, by hand, without any assistants in her studio. For a bowl, she typically starts with a block of wood, inspects it for cracks and knots, trims it down to size on a bandsaw or chainsaw, and then cuts it into a round blank that gets mounted onto a lathe—a tool which rotates an object on an axis. She shapes exterior of the bowl, sands the exterior, then mounts it onto a chuck to turn the inside using a bowl gouge. After mounting the bowl onto a cole jaw to remove the tenon (a stump of the wood that's used to mount the bowl to the chuck), Song then applies oil and wax to the finished piece. She typically uses sugar maple and claro walnut, two woods that are readily available. "Sugar maple is quite dense and the grains are very consistent whereas Walnut is much more porous," she describes.

2014 was a big year for Song, who exhibited at Heath Ceramics; collaborated with natural dyer Kristine Vejar on a series of indigo-dipped bowls for March, a high-end purveyor of kitchenware; and is now selling her work through the international e-commerce site Kaufmann Mercantile. We're eager to see what's in store for her next.

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 6 of 8 -

"I have some idea of what I can begin carving with a piece of wood in front of me," Song says. "I look at the figure of the wood for composition. Then I begin the process of drawing it internally and processing it through the tool in which I use to carve. I rarely draw forms in sketchbooks. If I do, sketch proportions and size in relation to the objects around it. I sculpt as I turn—freeform turning."

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 7 of 8 -

Song collaborated with natural dyer Kristine Vejar on a line of indigo-dyed maple bowls for March. "She is an expert natural dyer, a teacher and an artist who's received numerous accolades for her work," she says. "Vejar spent some time as a participatory artist in the Berkeley Art Museum's The Possible exhibit. I had not worked with traditional Japanese indigo dying before but have had some curiosity to dying wood with a natural dye, instead of chemical dyes."

Designer Spotlight: Silvia Song - Photo 8 of 8 -

Song exhibited these wood vessels at Heath Ceramics. "I first started with the very basic form, which is a bowl," Song says. "While it may seem pretty simple, I feel that it took me months to understand the technical aspects of working with wood and the lathe. After a year of turning, 500 or so bowls and pieces later, I am bit more comfortable but I am many years away from fully understanding the craft."

Get a Daily Dose of Design

Sign up for the Dwell Daily Newsletter and never miss our new features, photos, home tours, stories, and more.