DEER ISLE — “We lived in L.A. for a while.” Uttered from the sun-filled kitchen of her Center District Crossroad farmhouse, Lorrie Snyder speaks in faraway tones fitting for distant times. But it was only two years ago that she and her partner Meg Wolfe uprooted their decades-long West Coast artist life to move to Deer Isle. For Wolfe, it was coming home to an aging mother. For Snyder, it was the chance to walk away from a longstanding career building sets for film, theater and music videos, as technical advisor for live performances, consulting and teaching at California Institute for the Arts and UCLA about the furniture her heart and mind wanted to create.
Snyder works in a tiny studio, mere footsteps away from the farmhouse she shares with Wolfe. It’s about as far from the 4,000 or so square-foot studio, with a half a million dollars in equipment, as Maine is from Los Angeles. A solid third of the studio space is taken up by renovations to one of the little houses in the installation in downtown Stonington. But that’s just for fun.
Snyder’s passion is designing and building furniture. Inspired by the simple-yet-elegant lines of Shaker furniture and architect and woodworker George Nakashima, her designs positively answer the question, can a table be wild and artful at the same time?
Using Eastern white pine, with its unique whorls and knotholes hidden inside, Snyder teases out the wood’s natural patterns to grace benches and tables of many shapes and functions. Including a chess table and a hallway table that could (in this reporter’s imagination) double as an ironing board.
Snyder started out studying music theory in college but said she “shortly saw the bills wouldn’t get paid.” At the same time, she became enamored with three dimensions, which led to a furniture apprenticeship outside of Woodstock in upstate New York. She was in her early 20s at the time. By good fortune and contacts, she landed a set-building job on the feature film “City of Hope,” with director John Sayles, and “that changed my life,” she said.
“I learned to weld, I started working with metals, and I began to understand the seduction of sand painting,” she said, a nod to the elaborate sand paintings the Navajo and Tibetan Buddhists create that are brushed away or poured into water once complete.
But designing and constructing stage sets is wildly different than creating a piece for permanence because the technical standards are so different. Snyder was “making physical objects but they [were] not the point,” she said. “You’re building straight for the eye to [create] an experience. They’re ephemeral.”
As the years and her career evolved, Snyder turned to set designs for live performance, technical direction, where she “made sure everything came together,” to teaching and consulting. Because she originally worked in construction as well as the performing arts, Snyder knew the specialized language of both fields. As a consultant, “I would stand in the middle of that intersection and do my very best to make sure the client got what they wanted.”
Now she performs that same role for her own designs. Creating a handcrafted table or bench takes time, and Snyder offers only a limited number of pieces from her current design catalog along with commissioned pieces.
“This is the first time in my entire career I have been able to say, ‘What do I want to make?’ It’s heavy stuff. For the first time, I’m not on a production schedule, not going for maximum efficiency,” she said. “I am hunting a holy grail of some kind of self-expression.”