Horizontal chair by David Ralph – <em>from engineer to furniture-maker</em>

No. 96 Horizontal chair by David Ralph – from engineer to furniture-maker

Originally trained as a mining engineer in Sydney, Tasmanian furniture-maker, David Ralph (born 1946), crafted this chair in 2000 at his workshop in Richmond. It is made from a timber colloquially called either ‘horizontal scrub’ or just ‘horizontal’. This timber - scientific name, Anodopetalum biglandulosum - grows to a height of about 20 metres, sends out long, horizontal branches, and eventually collapses under its own weight when its foliage becomes too heavy for the narrow trunk. ‘Horizontal’ is endemic to the rainforests of Tasmania. more...

David Ralph moved to Tasmania from Sydney in 1970 after graduating as a mining engineer from the University of New South Wales. He adopted woodwork as his profession in 1975, acquiring skills through experience rather than formal training. Ralph was inspired by historic furniture, as well as unique species of Tasmanian timber that had evolved over thousands of years of geographical isolation. He preferred to work with the wood in its natural state, retaining most of the bark and lichen. While he always made his furniture from horizontal, he occasionally turned pieces – such as bowls and canisters – from Huon pine.

Ralph’s work combines a love of the natural environment and natural materials with an engineering sensibility that emphasises structural integrity and simplicity. The design of this chair is influenced by the ‘stick chairs’ made by Tasmanian bushman, Jimmy Possum, in the Deloraine district in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These, in turn, descend from the earlier British tradition of the ‘Windsor chair,’ the design of both antecedents is strongly influenced by the structural qualities of the raw materials. Both Windsor and Jimmy Possum chairs are built around, and held together by, a solid slab seat with several types of wood used in their construction. In contrast, Ralph’s chair is made entirely of lengths of ‘horizontal’, left in the raw except for the ends where the components are shaped to joint into one another. The slats of the seat are made from sections which have been flattened on two sides. He selects curved pieces of wood to produce comfortable shapes for chair backs and seats. .

In December 1988, Ralph won the highest award in the Tasmanian Woodcraft Competition for an armchair similarly constructed from ‘horizontal’ timber. A report published in The Mercury on the occasion quoted Ralph: “Horizontal timber is exceptionally tough and thin strips will support remarkably heavy loads before breaking. Despite its strength the wood is easily worked and can be cut very cleanly, leaving a hard, smooth finish.” While restricting himself to ‘horizontal’ for furniture, Ralph has also made turned containers from Huon pine that exhibit an engineer’s sense of precision.

David Ralph retired from woodwork in about 2002.

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  • Object maker: David Ralph
  • Object date: 1977
  • Object size: 92 x 52 x 53 cm
  • Object location: Richmond
  • Object display location: Off Display
  • Object source: Festival of Tasmania Exhibition
  • Accession number: P197771