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FEATURED ARTISTS:

GENE MC CLAIN

JIM FISH

ARTURO CHAVEZ

ANGEL ROSE

LYNNE KOTTEL

KATHERINE HOWARD

ALVARO ENCISO

BARRY McCORMICK

BARTLEY JOHNSON

KATRINA LASKO

EDWARD GONZALES

GARY ROLLER

SUSAN JORDAN

BIANCA HÄRLE

MARCIA FINKELSTEIN

LYNN HARTENBERGER

DAVID W. CRAMER

MICHAEL PROKOS

LAURA ROBBINS

SUSAN GUTT

EVEY JONES

GARY W. PRIESTER

GENE McCLAIN

DAWN WILSON-ENOCH

LINDA HEATH

MARY CARTER

LISA CHERNOFF
 
JON WILLIAM LOPEZ

SARA LEE D'ALESSANDRO

RUDI KLIMPERT

DIANNA SHOMAKER

BUNNY BOWEN

ED GOODMAN

GARY SANCHEZ

MARILYN AND HERB DILLARD

GERALDINE BRUSSEL

SAMANTHA McCUE ECKERT

SHARON SCHWARTZMANN

JIM FISH

C.E. FRAPPIER

TONY PARANÁ-RODRIGUES

FERNANDO DELGADO

JB BRYAN

LORNA SMITH

KATRINA LASKO

BILL FREEMAN

JULIANNA KIRWIN

LENORE & LARRY GOODELL

RIHA ROTHBERG AND WAYNE MIKOSZ

KATHERINE SLUSHER

MEG LEONARD

BEN FORGEY


For more great local art, visit
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Sandoval Signpost Featured Artist Gallery

Ben Forgey

Ben Forgey at the Lizard Rodeo Lounge in the Range Café afront two of his many creations: a wire mesh-and-barbed wire chandelier and driftwood-framed mirror.

New work by Forgey

New work by Forgey

The product of balance

—KEIKO OHNUMA

You would want your furniture made by a man just like this: solid as a firefighter, earthy in speech, yet thoughtful at times for the space of eternity, just long enough to await the arrival of the right word.

His furniture defies labels, except that it is as earthy and ethereal as the man himself. Self-taught woodworker Ben Forgey, forty-one, started making furniture for his house after moving out west from Virginia, carrying only what would fit on his motorcycle.

That was in 1990. He owned a drill, a hammer, and a saw. He had no background in art or woodworking except “I guess I had a natural tree house-building temperament,” he shrugs. Finding no work as an aspiring writer, Forgey busied himself making a side table, a couch, and finally a chair out of twisted sticks he found in the arroyo near his home in Algodones.

Fast-forward a few years, to 1995. It isn’t clear how this happened, because Forgey is one of those rare artists whose work appears like magic, out of nowhere. After taking a few woodworking classes in Corrales, he approached the owners of The Range Café in Bernalillo, offering to make them new chairs for just $40 apiece.

“At some point I figured, if I can make $8 an hour doing this, shoot, I’m working for myself,” he said. “In some ways it was like, this is just twig furniture (I’m making), I wanted to do real wood joinery. But it was also an opportunity to fill a public room with my design.”

Three months later, he had indeed filled the room with chairs—only to see half of them burn up in a fire that gutted The Range a month later.

By this time, Forgey admits, he had bought woodshop tools. So he set about making The Range one hundred chairs for the current location on Camino del Pueblo—the ones that are still in the restaurant and the adjoining Lizard Lounge today. The project took him all of three months.

“The Range [was created by] these two Midwestern guys who came out here and made homemade food, so I thought, we’re going to make homemade chairs. They’re not really hippies; their sensibility is kind of fun and homey and left of center. So I designed these chairs that are kind of hippie New Mexican.”

Don’t let Forgey’s homespun manner fool you. He began the project by researching the history of New Mexican furniture making, from Spanish Colonial through the WPA—he was a history major in college. His father wrote architecture criticism for the Washington Post; his mother was an artist. “They were intellectuals, I guess, and artists,” he concedes. “So I didn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Oh, and the reason Forgey was able to make chairs for $40 apiece, incidentally, was that he had checks pouring in for thousands of dollars through the Sundance Catalog, where he had sold one of his chair designs. He had met a representative a few years back at a craft fair in Tucson, and they put Forgey’s upholstered Adirondack-style twig chair on the front page. Forgey went ahead and made thirty-five chairs, which he had stacked on his porch.

“I’d come home and my fax machine would have all these orders, and I’d box them up.” He ended up selling a total of forty-five chairs, at $1,000 apiece, of which he kept half.

“I probably spent a couple of months making those chairs,” he says. “I can’t vouch for how good they were.”

In fact, Forgey won’t vouch for how good he must be, given what comes naturally. When a friend invited him to Italy in 1995, he looked up the owner of a company that had once sold fifty of his chairs. Suddenly he was swept up in the fashion world of Milan, and spent a year in Italy making furniture at the invitation of a furniture-maker in Florence.

His chairs, too, belie the art that goes into them. Anyone who has worked with twisted, fallen branches knows how devilishly difficult they can be to engineer well. Forgey’s homespun Mexican-style chairs have the natural look of painted, sanded, and repainted castoffs, but one glance at his more abstract, sculptural pieces demonstrates the nuances that go into this faux-finish technique.

Currently he is incorporating Plexiglas and galvanized steel, pairing incongruous materials in ways that go beyond rustic Adirondack style to something almost modern—but not entirely. There is always a natural touch to Forgey’s work that makes the artfulness appear “just so,” the solid evidence of a magical sensibility that is more innate than learned.

Forgey traces his art odyssey to a moment on the beach in Mexico not long after he moved out west. “I was looking out on the waves and the sun was going down, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m a furniture maker.’ It just filled me with this warmth: I could be happy saying that I make furniture.

“Then after I got back (to Albuquerque) I thought, I’ll give this ten years and see what happens.”

In a seventeen-year career crafted out of just such moments, Forgey arrives at saying only that it came naturally.

“I might have become a writer. But when I started building, boy, it felt natural. My hands, I was much more comfortable with than my mind.”

His hands, as an expression of the mind that senses when to step aside and wait, echo the primordial moment when a man first picks up a branch to build. You would want your furniture to turn out like this—the product of an effortless balance between intellect and instinct, engineered and found, nature and art.



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