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KPU Richmond students breathe new life into donated wood for museum display

The creations will be displayed as part of a Museum of Vancouver exhibition and sold for a good cause.
The Bloom Chair by Sara Lee, Quinton Kehler and Jordyn MacAdams will be displayed in the Museum of Vancouver in 2025 along with designs from other KPU Wilson School of Design students.

Design students in Richmond are taking on their first major woodworking project and their creations will be displayed in an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV).

Product design students at KPU's Wilson School of Design have been tasked with making chairs out of donated vintage mahogany, giving the materials a second life and promoting a circular economy. 

Under the mentorship of local artists, second-year students forming nine teams each made at least one chair this past fall term and another five are in the works.

One of the creations includes the "Bloom Chair," designed and produced by students Sara Lee, Quinton Kehler and Jordyn MacAdams. The classic four-legged design is inspired by Ming dynasty chairs from Lee's childhood and features "a seat motif of mahogany tree seeds falling toward a bloom at its peak."

“Mahogany’s history is a heavy one. It’s not easy to talk about. It deals with colonialism, slavery, and exploitation, and we often forget the beauty of the wood itself,” said Lee.

“Our chair aims to strip away at these notions by showing the seed, the bloom, and the life.”

The students are using mahogany harvested in Guatemala and Nicaragua between the 1950s and 1970s. It was put in storage for "many years" by a boating equipment business that shuttered before it was ultimately donated to MOV.

"When we delivered the mahogany wood to Wilson School of Design, all we knew is it would be transformed into chairs. We had no idea who would be making them or what the chairs would look like,” said Viviane Gosselin, MOV director of collections and exhibitions. 

“I am so very impressed. Most professional designers will never get to design chairs. These students are not even out of school and have designed chair prototypes — some of the better-looking prototypes ever.”

The chairs will be featured along with pieces from MOV's permanent collection in an exhibition about the design and cultural history of chairs, set to kick off in early 2025.

With a working title of Take a Seat, the exhibition is a sequel to MOV's current exhibition, Reclaim + Repair: The Mahogany Project. It aims to challenge viewers to re-evaluate the significance of chairs and how they represent their creators, as well as showcase the design initiative of urban mining, which invites designers to create new objects using construction and demolition waste.

The students' creations will be on display for up to one year and are available for sale. Partial proceeds will go to reforestation efforts in Central America.

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