Mark Sfirri’s earliest explorations into multi-axis turning go back to his years as a student in the Furniture Design Program at Rhode Island School of Design in the mid 1970s. With the encouragement of his teacher, Tage Frid, Sfirri looked for ways to incorporate lathe-turned parts into furniture. In 1976, he turned some double-rimmed platters, one of which was his first off center turning. In 1977, having become by that time an MFA student at RISD, he made a set of six dining chairs constructed of elements that were off center turned as well. That planted the seeds for his future off-center turned work, in the early 1990s, when he focused more intently on multi-axis spindle turning. The resulting work included candle sticks, his signature “Rejects from the Bat Factory” (a series of baseball bats that something odd has happened to), spoons, vessels that are vessels in name only, abstract sculptures called “Glancing Figures,” rolling pins, and, of course, furniture.
The photo below appeared in the September 1995 issue of American Woodturner. Sfirri was a featured demonstrator at the AAW annual turning conference at UC Davis that year. Then journal editor Rick Mastelli took this photograph and wrote the caption.
Mark Sfirri taught full time in the Fine Woodworking Program at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pennsylvania from 1981 and became professor emeritus in 2017. He has been a maker, researcher, and writer and has conducted demonstrations and lectures throughout North America, England, France, Ireland, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand.
His work is included in twenty-eight public collections including The Museum of Arts & Design (NY), Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh PA), The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (DC), The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MN), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), Yale University Art Gallery, the James A. Michener Art Museum (PA), among others.
He has received two national awards: the “Distinguished Educator Award” in 2010 from the Renwick Alliance of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and, in 2012, the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Collectors of Wood Art.
When he was in high school, Sfirri visited the Wharton Esherick Museum, once Esherick’s house and studio. Esherick had remained on his mind ever since, and in 2006 Sfirri began researching Esherick’s life and work. He has authored or co-authored six articles about him for Woodworkand Journal of Modern Craft(see “Articles” for links to some of them). He served on the curatorial team of “Wharton Esherick and the Birth of the American Modern” which was an exhibition and symposium at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010. He has presented fifteen lectures on Esherick around the country.
Go to “Articles” for links to articles on Esherick (by Sfirri) and for a video link to a lecture on Esherick that Sfirri presented at World Wood Day in Long Beach California in 2017.
Sfirri’s contribution to collaboration dates to 1985 when he and painter Robert Dodge decided to make paintedfurniture together. In the early 1990s Sfirri and Canadian turner Michael Hosaluk started their own collaboration, which led to Hosaluk’s creation of the famous Emma Lake biennial collaborative conferences in Saskatchewan, Canada. Sfirri helped to establish and has been part of the steering committee of Echo Lake collaborative conferences from their inception in 1999, a similar annual conference held at BCCC which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2018.