When Tim Stead’s tables and chairs turned up in Glasgow’s Café Gandolfi in the 80s, it was love at first sight. Customers poured in. Not just to sample the great food, but also to try the chairs for size—there was always a three bears’ rush for the throne at the far side. Smooth, chunky and elegant, this furniture is still in touch with trees it is carved from, captivating to look at, and unbelievably comfortable to use.
Stead was a campaigner for craft, wood, artists, small business, young people. In 1984 he wrote, ‘The artist needs help to leave the reservation of the gallery and the craftsman to leave the showcase and mantelpiece and have the opportunities to work in the real world.’ Stead was very much of the real world and made sure that none of his time in it was wasted.
Then he died. At the age of 48 in 2000. He is buried in Wooplaw Wood, close to his Blainslie steading in the Scottish Borders, where he made wood his business, creating a workshop which continues to make furniture in his style. The pieces he left behind are treasured by individuals and by institutions as different as Chatelherault Primary School, lucky enough to have a Stead-built playground, and the Royal Museum of Scotland, where the ‘Millenium Clock’ that Stead built the case for, stands as a timely memorial. They are all here. This new book collects memories and pictures of his achievements. Edited by Giles Sutherland, it archives photographs, articles and tributes gathered from a wide circle of friends and colleagues, including curator Julian Spalding, scul?tor George Wyllie and film-maker Murray Grigor. There is a sense of love in this rich compilation and a fascinating flavour of the man and his work. Perhaps though, once the years have seasoned his art, a book with a more robust critical treatment will place him among the great furniture makers of the twentieth century.
Alice Bain is editor of MAP